What is a Lafler Frye Hearing in Georgia?

Lafler Frye Hearings in Georgia

The Supreme Court's decision of two cases in 2012 has resulted in an increase in Lafler claims but also the implementation of Lafler Frye hearings. A hearing is a proceeding before a court and are distinguished from trials in that they are usually shorter and less formal. Trials determine the outcome of a case while hearings are generally held to argue motions, such as a motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment, or motion to suppress evidence. Hearings determine how the trial proceeds. In criminal cases, there can be multiple hearings before the trial. They include preliminary hearings, administrative license hearings, bond hearings, and sometimes Lafler hearings. Georgia Lafler Frye hearings are held to have a plea offer on the official court record.

What is a Lafler Claim and a Lafler Frye Hearing?

Lafler claims and Lafler Frye hearings are a result of case law. Lafler Frye hearings are held in order to prevent Lafler claims alleging ineffective assistance of counsel concerning plea negotiations after judgment.

Lafler vs. Cooper, 123 S. Ct. 1376, (2012)

Lafler v. Cooper was a Supreme Court case from 2012. Anthony Cooper was convicted of shooting a woman in the thigh and buttocks after missing a shot to her head. During the court process, a plea offer was made by the prosecutor. Cooper's lawyer advised him not to take the plea offer thinking that there would not be a finding that Cooper intended to murder his victim. However, Cooper was convicted of assault with intent to murder among other charges. Cooper appealed, and the issue was whether a defendant is entitled to relief when their attorney deficiently advises them to reject a favorable plea bargain, but the defendant is later convicted and sentenced? The Supreme Court looked at whether the defendant would have accepted the offered plea that was less severe than his sentence absent the ineffective counsel of his attorney and whether the court would have allowed the plea. The Supreme Court ruled yes, and held that the prosecution should re-offer the plea, and if the defendant accepts it, then the trial court will amend the original sentence.

In sum, the court in Lafler ruled that defendants have a right to bring a claim against their counsel in post-judgment proceedings alleging that counsel failed to provide adequate representation concerning a plea offer by the prosecution. Defendants can file a Lafler claim if they rejected a pre-trial offer but received a harsher sentence following conviction. If successful in their Lafler claim, then the judgment is vacated, and the defendant is permitted to plead guilty to the previously made plea offer.

Missouri v. Frye, 132 S.Ct. 1399, (2012)

Galin Edward Frye was arrested for driving while his license was revoked. Missouri prosecutors offered two deals, but Frye's lawyer never told him about the offers. The time period to accept the plea offers lapsed and the case proceeded to trial. Frye pled guilty to a felony charge and was sentenced to three years in prison. He appealed arguing that his attorney should have conveyed the plea offers to him. The issue was whether a defendant who validly pleads guilty could assert a claim of ineffective assistance by alleging that, but for their attorney's error in failing to communicate a plea offer, they would have pled guilty with more favorable terms? The Court agreed with Frye and held that the Sixth Amendment requires defense attorneys to communicate formal plea offers from the prosecution.

Additionally, the offers must be communicated in a timely and effective manner. According to Frye, to prove prejudice from ineffective assistance, the defendant must demonstrate a reasonable probability they would have accepted the earlier plea offer had they been afforded effective assistance of counsel. Defendants must also show that there was a reasonable probability the court would have accepted the plea offer.

Justice Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion for the case wrote that “As a general rule, defense counsel has a duty to communicate formal offers from the prosecution to accept to accept a plea on terms and conditions that may be favorable to the accused.” He continued by stating “the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for a defendant.”

Frye resulted in the court ruling that attorneys have a duty to communicate plea offers to clients and that clients have legal ground to file suit against their attorney if they receive an increased sentence at trial. In addition, counsel must timely and effectively communicate all plea offers to the client.

Effect of the Lafler Frye Cases

These two companion decisions had significant systemic implications for the criminal plea-bargaining process. Essentially, the Court held that criminal defendants have a Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations including when they miss out on or reject plea bargains because of bad legal advice.

After the Court's decision in these cases, there has been a significant increase in Lafler claims where the defendant accuses their attorney of failing to inform them of plea negotiations. Due to the increased amount of Lafler Frye claims, the court in Frye set forth measures to help ensure against late claims after a less advantageous plea offer had been accepted or after a trial that led to a conviction with harsh consequences. One measure was that formal offers be made part of the record before trial.

In Sacramento County, California, courts have undertaken this measure to attempt to prevent unwarranted Lafler claims. A district attorney will state the plea offer in open court for the defendant to accept or reject and it will go on the record. Changes similar to what Sacramento County have introduced are likely to be implemented in other counties across the United States.  While they are rare, these types of hearings have also been scheduled in Georgia as well.

The purpose of the Frye hearing is for the court to inquire whether a plea offer has been made, whether the plea offer has been communicated to the client, and what the plea offer is. This is typically done on the record which means that a transcript will be done for the hearing and parties can look through the transcript later on. Lafler hearings are mandatory hearings. A failure to show up for this hearing will result in a bench warrant being issued for your arrest. If the client rejects the plea offer, then the offer is usually revoked on the spot by the prosecution.

It is important to note that there is no legal requirement for a Lafler hearing. It is not set out in the statute but is instead a hearing related to policy. Furthermore, Lafler hearings in Georgia are generally used in felony cases.

Why am I Scheduled for a Lafler Hearing in Georgia?

There has been an increase in Lafler Frye hearings due to the fact that judges are choosing to have defendants come into court and reject the plea offer on the record. This is done to try and prevent Lafler claims from being filed after the conclusion of a case. If you are scheduled for a Lafler hearing, you must attend, or a bench warrant will be issued for your arrest. It is for your benefit that the hearing is scheduled because then there is no question that you are aware of the State's plea offer before proceeding to trial.

Practice Notes

While another court appearance may seem like a burden, it can be a good thing. Having to make a court appearance can reflect the gravity of the situation and help defendants understand the significance of the plea offer.  We have seen clients ignore plea offers out of court because they think there is a better option coming. However, having the offer presented at the Lafler Frye hearing helps convey the seriousness of the situation. This also protects attorneys from being brought into court after the case has resolved. Because the plea offer is made apart of the record, the client cannot bring a claim later on that the attorney failed to communicate the offer to them.

One of the drawbacks to having a Georgia Lafler Hearing is that it can prevent plea offers later on. Once a plea offer has been made in a Lafler hearing and is one the record, prosecutors are hesitant to offer other pleas after the fact without conducting another hearing.

If you think you have a Lafler Frye claim against your attorney, it is critical to look at the criteria set out in the cases explained above. On the other side, if you have a Georgia Lafler hearing scheduled for your case, it is vital to carefully consider the plea offer being made and determine whether it is in your best interest to accept or take your chances at trial. Rejecting the plea offer at the Lafler Frye hearing will prevent you from being able to file a Lafler claim after conviction and sentencing.

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