Missouri v. Frye

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Post-Conviction Relief
  • Date Filed: October 31, 2011
  • Case #: 10-444
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Court Below: Court of Appeals of Missouri (W. Dist., 311 S.W.3d 350)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether trial counsel’s failure to disclose an offer made during plea negotiations to his client amounts to ineffective assistance of counsel when the defendant later pled guilty and was sentenced to less favorable terms.

Frye was charged with driving while revoked, a class D felony in Missouri. During plea negotiations, the State offered to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor with the option to serve a deferred three year sentence or an outright ninety days in jail. The offer had an expiration date and trial counsel failed to inform Frye of the offer before it expired. Frye, then entered an open guilty plea where the state recommended a three year deferred sentence, but the trial court did not accept the State’s recommendation and, instead, elected to sentence Frye to three years of imprisonment.

Frye filed a pro se post-conviction action and was later appointed post-conviction counsel. It was only then that Frye learned that the State had made an offer during plea negotiations and that his trial counsel failed to inform him that any offer was available, before or after the offer’s expiration. The post-conviction trial court ruled that trial counsel was not ineffective and the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed holding that Frye’s guilty plea was “unknowing, involuntary and unintelligent.” The Supreme Court granted cert requesting additional briefing as to what proper remedy Frye is entitled to as a result of trial counsel’s ineffectiveness.

The State argues that a plea negotiation is not a “critical confrontation” that triggers the Sixth Amendment’s right to counsel and that the Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel is limited to preserving the right to a fair trial, not fair plea negotiations. Thus, the State argues that Frye’s trial counsel was not ineffective. Frye takes the position that but for trial counsel’s failure to inform him of a plea offer, Frye would have taken the plea had it been presented, that his trial counsel was ineffective, and that his detention and restraint on his liberty were obtained unconstitutionally.

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