Two Big Habeas Wins On Plea Bargains

The Supreme Court this morning handed down opinions in Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper. I’d consider both to be wins for habeas petitioners generally (though it’s unclear if they’ll ultimately be wins for the specific prisoners involved in these cases).

Justice Kennedy authored both opinions, which are 5 to 4 decisions. I’ll avoid rehashing the facts in these two cases so if you’re unfamiliar with them you should probably go read up here and here. In Frye, the Court found ineffective assistance but remanded to the state court for a determination of prejudice. In Cooper the Court vacated the District Court’s order of “specific performance”—i.e. that the plea bargain Cooper wanted should be enforced—and essentially ordered the state prosecutor to ‘re-offer’ the plea bargain in order to determine whether Cooper would accept it.

Overall all, these two cases combined with yesterday’s ruling in Martinez v. Ryan are much needed rays of light in the otherwise dreary sky of federal habeas.

-Zachary Cloud

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