By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
In 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued two rulings regarding effective counsel and plea bargaining. In both cases, Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper, the court held that the right to effective counsel granted in the 6th Amendment extends to plea bargains and negotiations.
On April 8, the New York State-Federal Judicial Council will host a roundtable discussion to determine how these recent rulings will impact plea bargains in New York. Plea bargains are negotiation deals between defense counsel and the prosecution in a criminal case in which the defendant agrees to enter a plea of guilty for a reduced sentence.
In some instances, the plea bargain includes services that may be beneficial to the defendant, such as drug rehabilitation and job training workshops.
“Plea bargaining is the glue that holds our criminal justice system together,” said Hon. Barry Kamins. Kamins, the administrative judge for New York Criminal Courts, will sit on the April 8th panel.
“Plea bargaining takes place in 95 percent of our cases,” Kamins continued. “Recognizing that ours is a system of pleas more than trials, the Supreme Court has recognized that defendants have a right to the effective assistance of counsel as part of that process.”
In the Frye and Cooper cases, the court ruled that right to effective assistance of counsel applies not merely to criminal trials but, also when a plea bargain offer is rejected or lapses because of bad advice from a lawyer.
“There is a good side and a bad side to the plea bargain process,” said Jay Schwitzman, the president of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association. “From a defense standpoint, my clients get a softer sentence for the crimes they may have committed. They also get the social services they need,” Schwitzman said.
“The Brooklyn District Attorney allows for and provides great rehabilitative services.”
Schwitzman noted that the use of counsel is not the important part of the plea bargaining process but, rather the use and right to effective counsel. “In order to the effectively plea bargain, the defense attorney should be aware of the different programs that are available to his client,” Schwitzman said.
“Attorneys must know the strength and weakness in the case, know the limits of what kind of bargain can be asked for, and understand the value of a plea bargain to their client,” he added.
Other participants of the roundtable include Brooklyn Federal Judge Dora Irizarry, Alfred O'Connor of the New York State Defenders Association; Kristine Hamann, executive assistant district attorney in the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, and a number of defense attorneys.
“Brooklyn has at least 100,000 arrests each year,” said Schwitzman. “It is impossible to try every single case, so plea bargaining is important. It is a joint effort between the prosecution and the defense.”
There is a downside to plea bargaining, Schwtizman advised.
“There is always the danger of turnstile justice,” he said. Turnstile justice is the idea that offenders are put back on the street to offend again. “When you are trying to dispense justice in a fair manner, there is little choice but to plea bargain.
“Effective counsel and effective plea bargaining makes the systems run smoother.”
The roundtable discussion will be held at 8 p.m. at the Eastern District Courthouse. The discussion will be simulcast at federal courthouses in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Long Island, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica and White Plains. RSVP by April 1 to [email protected]