The majority of cases filed in delinquency court are resolved through a plea agreement. Pleas can be concerning if they are made after only the briefest of meetings between client and attorney, and with no time for adequate investigation, thought, or thorough discussion. Before a young client accepts a plea agreement, defenders must ensure the client has thoroughly discussed, and understands, the implications of the plea and its potential consequences.
According to the National Juvenile Defense Standards, Standard 4.9 Plea Agreements, “The ultimate decision of whether or not to plead guilty lies with the client. Prior to advising the client on whether to accept a plea offer, counsel must conduct an investigation and engage in an assessment of the strength of the case. Counsel must also explain to the client, in developmentally appropriate language, the strengths and weaknesses of the prosecution’s case, the benefits and consequences of accepting a plea, and any rights the client may be forfeiting by pleading guilty… During plea negotiations, counsel must zealously represent the expressed interests of the client, including advocating for some benefit for the client in exchange for the plea. Counsel must protect the client’s right to be allotted adequate time to consider the plea and alternative options.”
The two Supreme Court opinions provided below address counsel’s obligations regarding pleas by extending the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel to the consideration of plea offers that lapse or are rejected, which applies to “all ‘critical’” stages of the criminal proceedings.
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