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Lafler v. Cooper

Case Name
Lafler v. Cooper
566 U.S. 156
Unanimous Decision
Authoring Judge
Anthony Kennedy
Judge(s) - Majority
Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan
Judge(s) - Dissent
John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito
U.S. Supreme Court
On Review From
6th Circuit
Decision Year
Sentencing Differential (Maximum Exposure)
185 to 360 months
Sentencing Differential (Minimum Offered or Received)
51 to 85 months
Sentencing Differential Size
26 years


Defendant was charged with assault with intent to murder, possession of a firearm by a felon, possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, misdemeanor possession of marijuana, and for being a habitual offender. In exchange for a guilty plea, the state offered to dismiss some charges and recommend a sentence of 51-85 months. Defendant admitted guilt and expressed to the court that he would like to accept the plea. Defendant later rejected the offer on two occasions on advice of his attorney. On the first day of trial, the state offered a much less favorable plea bargain, which defendant again rejected on advice of his counsel. After trial, Defendant was convicted on all original counts and sentenced to a mandatory minimum of 185-360 months in prison. Defendant argued on appeal that his attorney’s advice to reject the pleas amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel. Under Strickland v. Washington, a defendant claiming ineffective assistance of counsel must prove the attorney provided deficient performance and that defendant suffered prejudice as a result. The Court applied this test to the situation at hand, where ineffective assistance results in rejection of a plea offer and defendant receives a more severe sentence. The Court held that in these circumstances, in order to satisfy the prejudice prong of Strickland, defendant must show that, but for the ineffective assistance of counsel, the defendant would have accepted the plea, the court would have accepted its terms, and either the conviction or sentence would have been less severe than the one imposed. The Court held that the proper relief in these circumstances is for the State to reoffer the original plea agreement and leave the sentencing discretion to the trial court.

Key Quote

“Even if the trial itself is free from constitutional flaw, the defendant who goes to trial instead of taking a more favorable plea may be prejudiced from either a conviction on more serious counts or the imposition of a more severe sentence.” p.166