When Anthony Cooper shot a fleeing woman in the thigh and buttocks back in 2003, his lawyer advised him to reject the prosecution’s deal because those below-the-waist wounds would shield him from any suggestion he tried to kill her. The advice was absurd.
The question before the Supreme Court on Monday morning was whether it was absurd enough to violate Cooper’s Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel.
The facts of Lafler v. Cooper are straightforward enough: Michigan prosecutors offered Cooper a lower sentence in exchange for his pleading guilty to assault with intent to murder. His lawyer told him to reject the deal, and he did. At trial, Cooper was convicted and received a stiffer sentence than the one initially offered by prosecutors.
Michigan’s solicitor general, John Bursch, spent nearly 20 minutes Monday arguing that such an outcome did not violate the Constitution under the Court’s precedents. To prove a Sixth Amendment violation, Bursch maintained, “you have to demonstrate unreliability of the adjudicatory process,” and a botched plea bargain alone does not impact a trial’s fairness.