Florida High Court Reverses Drug Conviction for Man Wrongly Advised on Max Sentence – Alcorn v. State

If you’re charged with a crime in Florida, it is imperative that you have legal representation. As the Florida Supreme Court explains in Alcorn v. State, it’s also important that the representation be effective.

Alcorn was arrested and charged with possession and sale of cocaine, charges that carried a maximum possible sentence of life in prison because Alcorn was classified as a “habitual offender.” He turned down a plea deal in which the State offered him a 12-year sentence in exchange for pleading guilty after his defense lawyer incorrectly advised Alcorn that the max sentence for the charges was 30 years. Following trial, Alcorn was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Alcorn later appealed the convictions, claiming that he received ineffective assistance from his attorney by virtue of being wrongly advised about the possible sentencing. An appellate court disagreed, however, finding that Alcorn was not prejudiced by the bad advice because he wound up being sentenced to 30 years behind bars, which he had mistakenly believed was the max sentence. The Florida Supreme Court reversed the conviction on further appeal, however.

As the court explained, the ineffective assistance argument is rooted in the U.S. Constitution’s 6th Amendment, which guarantees criminal defendants the right to effective counsel. “The United States Supreme Court has recognized that the plea bargaining stage is a critical one, at which defendants are constitutionally entitled to effective counsel: ‘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,’” the court observed, quoting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Missouri v. Frye.

In Frye and Lafler v. Cooper, each of which was decided after the appeals court ruled in Alcorn’s case, the nation’s highest court ruled explicitly that the right to effective counsel extends to the plea bargain process. The high court also explained that a criminal defendant misadvised during the plea bargain process can establish prejudice by showing that he or she wound up receiving a more harsh sentence than would have been rendered by accepting the plea deal.

Turning to Alcorn’s case, the court held that Alcorn could show that he was prejudiced by the defective assistance by establishing: that he would have accepted the plea deal had he been properly advised; the State would not have withdrawn the offer and the trial court would not have denied it; and Alcorn’s sentence under the deal would have been less than his actual sentence for the charges. In so doing, the court rejected prior decisions which it said were rendered null by the Supreme Court’s rulings in Frye and Lafler.

Finding that Alcorn was clearly prejudiced, the court reversed the conviction and remanded the case for additional proceedings.

This decision underscores the crucial importance of competent, experienced representation in a criminal case. If you have been charged with a crime in Florida, contact the South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine. We have significant experience representing clients in a wide variety of criminal cases, from DUI and drug possession to weapons and assault charges. With offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we represent clients throughout the region, including in Coral Springs, Boca Raton and Hialeah.

Related blog posts:

Florida Court Says Meth Convict Who Signed Plea Deal Can’t Appeal His Prison Sentence – U.S. v. Allbritton

Supreme Court OKs DNA Testing for Arrestees

Florida Court Throws Out Felony Charge for Failure to Prosecute – Mora v. State