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Missouri v. Frye

Case Name
Missouri v. Frye
566 U.S. 134
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
Missouri Court of Appeals
Decision Year
Sentencing Differential (Maximum Exposure)
4 years
Sentencing Differential (Minimum Offered or Received)
10 days
Sentencing Differential Size
3 years and 355 days


Defendant was charged with driving with a revoked license, for the third time. The State offered him two separate plea deals, one offering 10 days jail time and one offering a 90 day sentence, of which his attorney did not inform him. The offers expired. Defendant pled guilty at his preliminary hearing without an underlying plea agreement, and was sentenced to three years in prison. Defendant appealed on the grounds that his attorney’s failure to inform him of the plea offers constituted ineffective assistance. The Court held that defense counsel had a duty to communicate offers from the State to the Defendant, and not doing so constituted ineffective assistance. However, the Court held that the lower court erred in not requiring Defendant to show both a reasonable probability that he would have accepted the lapsed plea and a reasonable probability that the State would have honored the plea and the trial court would have accepted it under Strickland. Because Defendant did not show the latter, the Court vacated the lower court judgment and remanded to the Missouri Court of Appeals to determine if there was proof that the State would have honored the plea and the trial court would have accepted it.

Key Quote

“The reality is that plea bargains have become so central to the administration of the criminal justice system that defense counsel have responsibilities in the plea bargain process, responsibilities that must be met to render the adequate assistance of counsel that the Sixth Amendment requires in the criminal process at critical stages. Because ours ‘is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials,’ Lafler, post, at 11, it is insufficient simply to point to the guarantee of a fair trial as a backstop that inoculates any errors in the pretrial process. ‘To a large extent . . . horse trading [between prosecutor and defense counsel] determines who goes to jail and for how long. That is what plea bargaining is. It is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.'” p.143-144

“In a case, such as this, where a defendant pleads guilty to less favorable terms and claims that ineffective assistance of counsel caused him to miss out on a more favorable earlier plea offer, Strickland’s inquiry into whether ‘the result of the proceeding would have been different,’ requires looking not at whether the defendant would have proceeded to trial absent ineffective assistance but whether he would have accepted the offer to plead pursuant to the terms earlier proposed.” p.148