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In Missouri v. Frye and Lafler v. Cooper, the Supreme Court confirmed that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel applies to the plea negotiation process and held that prejudicial error can flow from ineffective plea advice. The defense community has applauded these decisions for recognizing the pivotal role that guilty pleas play in our criminal justice system and for requiring a minimum level of efficacy in plea lawyering. In this brief essay, I suggest that Frye and Lafler are victories for the defense community in yet another way. The decisions reflect judicial realism, and in this respect, they are especially important cases for systemic public defense litigation. Courts confronted with these suits in the past have stymied reform efforts by approaching these suits in a formalistic way, sending plaintiffs either to seek a post-conviction remedy or legislative redress, neither of which are practical options. Frye and Lafler, because they are grounded in the reality of today's criminal justice system, may provide critical leverage to lawyers asking courts for systemic relief.



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