ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MISSOURI, WESTERN DISTRICT Court Below: 311 S. W. 3d 350
Respondent Frye was charged with driving with a revoked license. Because he had been convicted of the same offense three times before, he was charged, under Missouri law, with a felony carrying a maximum 4-year prison term. The prosecutor sent Frye's counsel a letter, offering two possible plea bargains, including an offer to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor and to recommend, with a guilty plea, a 90-day sentence. Counsel did not convey the offers to Frye, and they expired. Less than a week before Frye's preliminary hearing, he was again arrested for driving with a revoked license. He subsequently pleaded guilty with no underlying plea agreement and was sentenced to three years in prison. Seeking post-conviction relief in state court, he alleged his counsel's failure to inform him of the earlier plea offers denied him the effective assistance of counsel, and he testified that he would have pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor had he known of the offer. The court denied his motion, but the Missouri appellate court reversed, holding that Frye met both of the requirements for showing a Sixth Amendment violation under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668. Specifically, the court found that defense counsel had been ineffective in not communicating the plea offers to Frye and concluded that Frye had shown that counsel's deficient performance caused him prejudice because he pleaded guilty to a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
1. The Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel extends to the consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected. That right applies to "all 'critical' stages of the criminal proceedings." Montejo v. Louisiana,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kennedy
The Sixth Amendment, applicable to the States by the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that the accused shall have the assistance of counsel in all criminal prosecutions. The right to counsel is the right to effective assistance of counsel. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668, 686 (1984). This case arises in the context of claimed ineffective assistance that led to the lapse of a prosecution offer of a plea bargain, a proposal that offered terms more lenient than the terms of the guilty plea entered later. The initial question is whether the constitutional right to counsel extends to the negotiation and consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected. If there is a right to effective assistance with respect to those offers, a further question is what a defendant must demonstrate in order to show that prejudice resulted from counsel's deficient performance. Other questions relating to ineffective assistance with respect to plea offers, including the question of proper remedies, are considered in a second case decided today. See Lafler v. Cooper, post, at 3--16.
In August 2007, respondent Galin Frye was charged with driving with a revoked license. Frye had been convicted for that offense on three other occasions, so the State of Missouri charged him with a class D felony, which carries a maximum term of imprisonment of four years. See Mo. Rev. Stat. §§302.321.2, 558.011.1(4) (2011).
On November 15, the prosecutor sent a letter to Frye's counsel offering a choice of two plea bargains. App. 50. The prosecutor first offered to recommend a 3-year sentence if there was a guilty plea to the felony charge, without a recommendation regarding probation but with a recommendation that Frye serve 10 days in jail as so-called "shock" time. The second offer was to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor and, if Frye pleaded guilty to it, to recommend a 90-day sentence. The misdemeanor charge of driving with a revoked license carries a maximum term of imprisonment of one year. 311 S. W. 3d 350, 360 (Mo. App. 2010). The letter stated both offers would expire on December 28. Frye's attorney did not advise Frye that the offers had been made. The offers expired. Id., at 356.
Frye's preliminary hearing was scheduled for January 4, 2008. On December 30, 2007, less than a week before the hearing, Frye was again arrested for driving with a revoked license. App. 47--48, 311 S. W. 3d, at 352--353. At the January 4 hearing, Frye waived his right to a preliminary hearing on the charge arising from the August 2007 arrest. He pleaded not guilty at a subsequent arraignment but then changed his plea to guilty. There was no underlying plea agreement. App. 5, 13, 16. The state trial court accepted Frye's guilty plea. Id., at 21. The prosecutor recommended a 3-year sentence, made no recommendation regarding probation, and requested 10 days shock time in jail. Id., at 22. The trial judge sentenced Frye to three years in prison. Id., at 21, 23.
Frye filed for post-conviction relief in state court. Id., at 8, 25--29. He alleged his counsel's failure to inform him of the prosecution's plea offer denied him the effective assistance of counsel. At an evidentiary hearing, Frye testified he would have entered a guilty plea to the misdemeanor had he known about the offer. Id., at 34.
A state court denied the post-conviction motion, id., at 52--57, but the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed, 311 S. W. 3d 350. It determined that Frye met both of the requirements for showing a Sixth Amendment violation under Strickland. First, the court determined Frye's counsel's performance was deficient because the "record is void of any evidence of any effort by trial counsel to communicate the Offer to Frye during the Offer window." 311 S. W. 3d, at 355, 356 (emphasis deleted). The court next concluded Frye had shown his counsel's deficient performance caused him prejudice because "Frye pled guilty to a felony instead of a misdemeanor and was subject to a maximum sentence of four years instead of one year." Id., at 360.
To implement a remedy for the violation, the court deemed Frye's guilty plea withdrawn and remanded to allow Frye either to insist on a trial or to plead guilty to any offense the prosecutor deemed it appropriate to ...