Anne R. Traum


The Supreme Court’s 2012 decisions in Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye lay the groundwork for a new approach to judicial oversight of guilty pleas that considers outcomes. These cases confirm that courts possess robust authority to protect defendants’ Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel and that plea outcomes are particularly relevant to identifying and remedying prejudicial ineffective assistance in plea-bargaining. The Court’s reliance on outcome-based prejudice analysis and suggestions for trial court-level reforms to prevent Sixth Amendment violations set the stage for trial courts to take a more active, substantive role in regulating guilty pleas.

This Article traces these significant doctrinal shifts and argues that they supply both impetus and authority for trial courts to regulate guilty pleas by monitoring plea outcomes. This proposal builds on market-based concepts while strengthening the judicial role in safeguarding constitutional values. By monitoring outcomes, courts can detect and correct factors in the plea-bargaining market, such as prosecutorial overreaching and ineffective defense counsel, which can distort the parties’ ability to negotiate fair results. Outcomes monitoring is justified for practical reasons because it builds on courts’ expertise and unique place in the plea markets, it can be implemented at the trial court level, it reinforces courts’ traditional sentencing authority, and it can prevent litigation of prejudicial ineffective assistance in post-conviction proceedings.