IBA: New U.S. Supreme Court Case May Change Procedures in Indiana Courts

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Bell James Bell

By: James Bell and Alex Gude of Bingham Greenebaum & Doll LLP

The recent United States Supreme Court case of Missouri v. Frye, 132 S. Ct. 1399, 2012 U.S. LEXIS 2321 (2012) may create advisements for defendants who wish to take cases to trial and may make courts an unwilling witness to plea negotiations.

In Frye, the defendant was charged with driving with a revoked license. Id. at *8. “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.” Id. While the case was pending, “the prosecutor sent a letter to Frye’s counsel offering a choice of two plea bargains,” including an offer to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor and to recommend, with a guilty plea, a 90 day sentence. Id. at *8-9. “Frye’s attorney did not advise Frye that the offers had been made,” and “the offers expired.” Id. at *9. Less than a week before Frye’s scheduled preliminary hearing, he was again arrested for driving with a revoked license. Id. At the preliminary hearing, Frye pleaded guilty with no underlying plea agreement and was sentenced to three years in prison. Id. at *9-10.

The issue in Frye was whether the Sixth Amendment right of effective assistance of counsel extended to the negotiation and consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected. Id. at *8. Specifically, Frye argued that “his counsel’s failure to inform him of the prosecution’s plea offer denied him the effective assistance of counsel,” and that “he would have entered a guilty plea to the misdemeanor had he known about the offer.” Id. at *10.

In siding with Frye, the Supreme Court explained that the “Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to have counsel present at all ‘critical’ stages of criminal proceedings.” Id. at *11. It concluded that “as a general rule, defense counsel has the duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the accused.” Id. at *20. As a result, Frye was denied effective assistance of counsel “[w]hen defense counsel allowed the plea offer to expire without advising the defendant or allowing him to consider it.” Id. The Supreme Court further explained that “[t]o show prejudice from ineffective assistance of counsel where a plea offer has lapsed or been rejected because of counsel’s deficient performance, defendants must demonstrate a reasonable probability they would have accepted the earlier plea offer had they been afforded effective assistance of counsel.” Id. at *23. “Defendants must also demonstrate a reasonable probability the plea would have been entered without the prosecution canceling it or the trial court refusing to accept it, if they had the authority to exercise that discretion under state law.” Id. at *23-24. Finally, “it is necessary to show a reasonable probability that the end result of the criminal process would have been more favorable by reason of a plea to a lesser charge or a sentence of less prison time.” Id. at *24.

The Supreme Court also suggested that “trial courts may adopt some measures to ensure against late, frivolous, or fabricated claims after a later, less advantageous plea offer has been accepted or after a trial leading to conviction with resulting harsh consequences.” Id. at *21-22. Specifically, it suggested that:

First, the fact of a formal offer means that its terms and its processing can be documented so that what took place in the negotiation process becomes more clear if some later inquiry turns on the conduct of earlier pretrial negotiations. Second, States may elect to follow rules that all offers must be in writing, again to ensure against later misunderstandings or fabricated charges. Third, formal offers can be made part of the record at any subsequent plea proceeding or before a trial on the merits, all to ensure that a defendant has been fully advised before those further proceedings commence.

Id. at *22.

The requirement that an attorney promptly communicate the status of an offer is nothing new. Rule 1.4 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct requires that an attorney keep his or her client “reasonably informed about the status of a matter” and the Comment specifically requires that “a lawyer who receives from opposing counsel an offer of settlement in a civil controversy or a proffered plea bargain in a criminal case must promptly inform the client of its substance.”

However, making formal offers part of the record at “plea proceedings” or before a trial may be a new practice for some Indiana courts. Every lawyer who has worked in a criminal court has heard the phrase “the court is not a party to the plea agreement” countless times. Furthermore, only some courts inquire about plea negotiations prior to trial and it would be rare for a court to inquire about plea negotiations in a “plea proceeding.” After all, Rule 408 of the Indiana Rules of Evidence states that offers to settle matters are generally inadmissible and some lawyers on both sides are reluctant to share settlement offers for fear that it will affect sentencing or other proceedings in the matter.

Frye holds that attorneys have a duty to inform their clients of all pending offers. However, that concept has been on the books for a significant period of time. Now that this concept is part of Sixth Amendment law, it may change how Indiana criminal courts conduct business.•


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  1. Mr Smith, while most reading these posts are too busy making money or cranking out what passes for justice in our legal-techocrat order,I have often attempted to resist your cynicism, well thought out cynicism I admit. Please know that I give up, I can resist your logic no more. From Locknarian Platonic Guardians, through the incorporation doctine, to substantive due process, to Roe, to the latest demands that all states redefine the foundational stone of all civilized social order, the history of America's fall from Grace is inscribed on the dockets of the judiciary. From the federal judges' apostasy of a kind that would have caused John Jay to recommend capital punishment, to the state judges' refusal to protect the sanctuary of the state constitutions, seeing in them merely a font from which to protect pornographers, those who scream "f*ck the police" and pemubras and emanations following the federal apostates, it has been the judiciary, by and large, that has brought the Experiment in Ordered Liberty to an end. The Founders had great and high hopes that they had designed the third branch to save the Republic from such a time as this ... rather the third branch has allowed itself to be used to drag the Republic into rat infested sewers from which no nation has ever returned. Save me from tomorrow:

  2. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  3. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  4. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  5. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied