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Lee v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

March 28, 2017, Argued; June 23, 2017, Decided

No. 16-327.


 [**482]  Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Jae Lee was indicted on one count of possessing ecstasy with intent to distribute. Although he has lived in this country for most of his life, Lee is not a United States citizen, and he feared that a criminal conviction might affect his status as a lawful permanent resident. His attorney assured him there was nothing to worry about—the Government would not deport him if he pleaded guilty. So Lee, who had no real defense to the charge, opted to accept a plea that carried a lesser prison sentence than he would have faced at trial.

Lee’s attorney was wrong: The conviction meant that Lee was subject to mandatory deportation from this country. Lee seeks to vacate his conviction on the ground that, in accepting the plea, he received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. Everyone agrees that Lee received objectively unreasonable representation. The question presented is whether he can show he was prejudiced as a result.

Jae Lee moved to the United States from South Korea in 1982. He was 13 at the time. His parents settled the family in New York [***7]  City, where they opened a small coffee shop. After graduating from a business high school in Manhattan, Lee set out on his own to Memphis, Tennessee, where he started working at a restaurant. After  [*1963]  three years, Lee decided to try his hand at running a business. With some assistance from his family, Lee opened the Mandarin Palace Chinese Restaurant in a Memphis suburb. The Mandarin was a success, and Lee eventually opened a second restaurant nearby. In the 35 years he has spent in the country, Lee has never returned to South Korea. He did not become a United States citizen, living instead as a lawful permanent resident.

At the same time he was running his lawful businesses, Lee also engaged in some illegitimate activity. In 2008, a confidential informant told federal officials that Lee had sold the informant approximately 200 ecstasy pills and two ounces of hydroponic marijuana over the course of eight years. The officials obtained a search warrant for Lee’s house, where they found 88 ecstasy pills, three Valium tablets, $32,432 in cash, and a loaded rifle. Lee admitted that the drugs were his and that he had given ecstasy to his friends.

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137 S. Ct. 1958 *; 198 L. Ed. 2d 476 **; 2017 U.S. LEXIS 4045 ***; 85 U.S.L.W. 4412; 26 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 733; 2017 WL 2694701


Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Subsequent History: On remand at, Remanded by Lee v. United States, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 12144 (6th Cir.) (6th Cir., July 7, 2017)


Lee v. United States, 825 F.3d 311, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 10337 (6th Cir.) (6th Cir. Tenn., June 8, 2016)

Disposition: 825 F. 3d 311, reversed and remanded.


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Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Assistance of Counsel, Criminal Law & Procedure, Counsel, Effective Assistance of Counsel, Pleas, Tests for Ineffective Assistance of Counsel