Ineffective Assistance of Counsel During the Plea Negotiations

Plea negotiations have enormous potential to impact a defendant’s life, even more so that the trial phase. It is equally important to have an effective attorney. If a defendant’s lawyer does not meet the standard of effectiveness under Texas law, this is a ground for appeal and possible reversal of the jail sentence. It is important to understand what a defendant must show in order to show ineffective counsel during a plea negotiation. The San Antonio Court of Appeals handled this issue in RODRIGUEZ v. STATE.

In Rodriguez, the defendant was convicted of sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child by contact, and indecent exposure to a child. The court added more time to the conviction because the defendant had prior convictions. Prior to the trial, the State offered the defendant a ten-year sentence as part of a plea bargain agreement, the defendant declined the offer on advice of his lawyer. At trial, the court found the defendant guilty and sentenced him to eight life sentences and one twenty-tear sentence. The defendant hired a new attorney and filed an appeal of the jail sentence, stating that his previous counsel was ineffective and this ineffectiveness caused the defendant to accept a less than satisfactory plea bargain.

What is Ineffective Counsel?

Under Texas law, there are two factors necessary to prove ineffective counsel: 1) the defendant must show that the attorney made such serious mistakes that the attorney did not meet the requirement of effective counsel under the Sixth Amendment; and 2) the defendant must present evidence that the attorney’s mistakes were serious enough to take away any chance the defendant had at a fair trial. In Rodriguez, the attorney for the defendant wrote a letter admitting to providing ineffective counsel, so both parties agreed on this point.

W1hat is Prejudice in Plea Bargaining?

Under Texas law, there are three factors that a defendant must show to prove that prejudice existed in the plea bargaining process. First, the defendant must show that the plea was acceptable; second, that the prosecution had no intention of withdrawing the bargain; and 3) that the court would have accepted the plea bargain.

In Rodriguez, the court found that in the absence of an ill-advised suggestion by the previous lawyer, the defendant would have taken the plea. The court went on to hold that no facts existed to show that the State exhibited any behavior indicating the withdrawal of the plea bargain. Finally, the court held that a reasonable likelihood existed that the court would have accepted the plea bargain before trial. The court placed the defendant in the same position he held prior to error made by his ineffective counsel and gave the court the power to accept or reject the ten-year plea bargain.

Guest and Gray Law Firm is a full service civil and criminal defense law firm serving the entire DFW Metroplex including Dallas, Kaufman, Rockwall and surrounding counties. Our main office is in Forney, Texas where we have served the community since 1967. We also have office locations in Rockwall and Kaufman, Texas. Our team of lawyers is ready to help with any criminal law concern you may have.

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