New Jersey Criminal Case LAFLER v. COOPER
Respondent was charged under Michigan law with assault with intent to murder and three other offenses.
- The prosecution offered to dismiss two of the charges and to recommend a 51-to-85-month sentence on the other two, in exchange for a guilty plea.
- Respondent rejected the offer, allegedly after his attorney convinced him that the prosecution would be unable to establish intent to murder because the victim had been shot below the waist.
- At trial, respondent was convicted on all counts and received a mandatory minimum 185-to-360-month sentence.
- In a subsequent hearing, the state trial court rejected respondent’s claim that his attorney’s advice to reject the plea constituted ineffective assistance.
- The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed, rejecting the ineffective-assistance claim on the ground that respondent knowingly and intelligently turned down the plea offer and chose to go to trial.
- Finding that the state appellate court had unreasonably applied the constitutional effective assistance standards laid out in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, and Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U. S. 52, the District Court granted a conditional writ and ordered specific performance of the original plea offer.
- The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Applying Strickland, it found that counsel had provided deficient performance by advising respondent of an incorrect legal rule, and that respondent suffered prejudice because he lost the opportunity to take the more favorable sentence offered in the plea.
- The Supreme Court held that where counsel’s ineffective advice led to an offer’s rejection, and where the prejudice alleged is having to stand trial, a defendant must show that but for the ineffective advice, there is a reasonable probability that the plea offer would have been presented to the court, that the court would have accepted its terms, and that the conviction or sentence, or both, under the offer’s terms would have been less severe than under the actual judgment and sentence imposed.
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