Can a Judge Rect a Plea Bargain Agreement ?

Plea bargains are how criminal cases are resolved today. Jed Rakoff wrote an article a few years ago on why innocent people plead guilty. Some statistics indicate that in 2013 97 % of all federal criminal cases were settled by a plea bargain agreement, In his article Mr. Rakoff discusses the evolution of the plea bargain agreement in resolving criminal cases. today's post focuses on what happens if a judge does not accept a plea bargain agreement.

Last week, a Williamson County, Tennessee judge he announced he would no longer be accepting plea bargain agreements once the case was set for a jury trial. First, no criminal judge in Tennessee is bound to accept every plea bargain agreement. Under Rule 11 (c)(3)(A) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure a trial court has the authority gives the trial court the authority to accept to accept or reject a plea agreement. In the Williamson County example, the court could be forcing the defendant to plea guilty as charged. However, The Court of Criminal  Appeals has held there was no abuse in discretion to reject a plea bargain agreement that came in after the plea deadline. See State v. Murphy. Here is a link to review the case.

If the court does reject the plea agreement, the court must comply with Rule 11(c)(5) of the Tennessee Rules of Criminal Procedure in advising the defendant of certain ramifications of the court's rejection of the plea.

Next week more on plea bargains.

Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Plea Bargain Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court  recently heard  oral arguments in Cooper  and Frye. The links will take you to a transcript of the oral argument. The pivotal issue is  the performance of the lawyers during the plea bargaining process.. In the Frye case , Mr. Frye's lawyer did not advise him of a plea bargain offer where Frye could have plead guilty to a misdemeanor and serve 90 days in jail. Instead , Frye took a thee year sentence to serve with a felony now on his record. In Cooper , the criminal defense lawyer gave the defendant some really bad advice on the issue of intent to commit murder. During oral argument , the court struggled with the proper remedy. The court has held that plea bargaining is a critical stage of the litigation for Sixth Amendment purposes.

A more interesting side note is that of the low price lawyer who writes letters to those accused of a crime and offers to provide a legal service for the sum of $400.00.  Simple Justice addressed the issue of lawyers whose business model is take the bucks and plead them or force them to plead guilty . I witnessed one such event today. Cheap lawyer says to assistant district attorney " It's a DUI first offense right and I want to move the case for plea". No negotiation . No discussion with the assistant district attorney. Probably no review of the warrant or video. Nothing . NADA. Zilch. The lawyer took the bucks and made a rapid plea bargain at the client's expense..What regulates lawyers when they have no intention of giving an accused  a defense. Those issues will not be addressed and will be the dirty little secret in the underworld of criminal justice. Yet the problem exists. I guess it is the old adage " you get what you pay for".

Justice Scalia said trying to solve either problem would leave the courts “in the soup,” as Mr. Cooper had received a fair trial and Mr. Frye had entered a valid guilty plea. Justice Scalia is dead wrong in his comments. First , Frye did not enter a knowing plea of guilt and Cooper did not have a lawyer that knew the basics of an attempt to commit murder. Scalia concluded the trial was fair. Not hardly.

Now what will the Supreme Court do when the lawyers blew it ?