Lafler vs. Cooper
In 2012 the United States Supreme Court considered how to consider a defendant’s argument that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel when advising a criminal defendant about potential plea offers. In the case of Cooper v Lafler, 132 S.Ct. 1376 (2012) which originated in the state of Michigan, the defendant rejected a plea offer because of his trial attorney’s advice and decided to proceed to trial. After a jury trial he was convicted on all charges and was sentenced to 185-360 months in prison. The original plea offer made to the defendant was for 51-85 months. The defendant rejected the offer because his trial attorney advised him that the prosecution could never prove the necessary intent to secure a conviction.
Although Cooper argued that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance of counsel and therefore denied him his Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel the Michigan courts refused to apply the ineffective assistance of counsel test known as the Strickland test. Instead the Michigan courts evaluated whether or not Cooper’s decision to reject the plea offer was voluntary and knowing. The Michigan appellate courts determined that his decision was voluntary and knowing and therefore rejected his appeal and his convictions were affirmed.
Cooper’s Case in the Federal Circuit
At the federal level Cooper found success with his argument. The federal courts agreed with Cooper that the Strickland test should apply to his legal argument. The court determined that his trial attorney did not provide him with effective assistance of counsel and granted his appeal. The federal court found that the Michigan courts erred in denying his previous appeals. The federal court ruled that the appropriate remedy for the injustice was to allow Cooper the opportunity to accept the plea and the significantly shorter sentence of 51-85 months initially offered with the first plea offer.
Cooper’s case in the United States Supreme Court
By the time Cooper’s case made it to the United States Supreme Court both sides agreed that Cooper’s lawyer was ineffective. The disagreement revolved around what was the proper remedy in such instances. Without specifically providing a remedy the court simply provided that in such cases where a defendant passes on a plea due to ineffective assistance of counsel the remedy must “neutralize the taint” of the injustice. But the Court left it to the lower courts to determine the proper remedy on a case by case basis.