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A showing of prejudice, for purposes of challenging a deportation order resulting in a prosecution under 8 U.S.C.S. § 1326, requires that there was a reasonable likelihood that but for the errors complained of the defendant would not have been deported. In short, if the defendant was legally deportable and despite the Immigration and Naturalization Service's errors, the proceeding could not have yielded a different result, the deportation is valid for purposes of § 1326.
Defendant Mendoza-Mata was a citizen of Mexico who obtained permanent resident status in the United States in 1992. In 1994, Mendoza-Mata was convicted of cocaine possession and sentenced to six years of probation. His probation was subsequently revoked as a result of criminal charges brought against him and he was sentenced to a six-year term of imprisonment. Subsequently, the Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") commenced deportation proceedings against him under then § 241(a)(2)(B)(i) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (“INA”). Meanwhile, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") was enacted and identified a broad set of offenses for which convictions would preclude discretionary relief. During the deportation hearing, defendant conceded deportability, but requested discretionary relief and cancellation of removal, based on his length of residence in the United States in conjunction with his parents' legal resident status. The Immigration Judge held that defendant was ineligible for cancellation of removal and ordered defendant’s deportation. Defendant appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals, which applied the AEDPA retroactively, and held that defendant was statutorily ineligible for discretionary relief under § 212(c) because he committed an aggravated felony. In 1999, defendant re-entered the United States, and in 2000, defendant was indicted for illegal reentry into the United States in violation of § 1326(a) and (b)(2). Defendant pleaded guilty to the indictment; however, prior to his sentencing, the Supreme Court rendered its decision in INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 150 L. Ed. 2d 347, 121 S. Ct. 2271 (2001), which held that the elimination of § 212(c) could not be applied retroactively to those persons who would have been eligible for § 212(c) relief at the time of their guilty plea under the law in effect at that time. Based on St. Cyr, defendant moved to withdraw his guilty plea and dismiss the indictment. At the sentencing hearing, the district court orally denied the motions and sentenced defendant to imprisonment. Defendant appealed, arguing that he should have been allowed to withdraw his guilty plea and have the court dismiss the indictment for illegal reentry into the United States under § 1326.
Under the circumstances, should the court allow the defendant to withdraw his guilty plea, and thereafter, dismiss his indictment for illegal reentry?
The Court noted that an alien who was being prosecuted under § 1326 can, in some circumstances, assert a challenge to an underlying deportation order, if he was able to establish that the: (i) the prior hearing was "fundamentally unfair;" (ii) the hearing effectively eliminated the right of the alien to challenge the hearing by means of judicial review of the order; and (iii) the procedural deficiencies caused the alien actual prejudice. In this case, the Court held that defendant failed to satisfy the "actual prejudice" requirement. According to the Court, a showing of prejudice meant, "there was a reasonable likelihood that but for the errors complained of the defendant would not have been deported." The Court held that defendant could not show actual prejudice as, given his extensive criminal record, it was highly unlikely the Attorney General would have exercised discretion to grant him relief from deportation, had it been considered. Therefore, defendant was not entitled to relief from the deportation order or to dismissal of the subsequent charge of illegal reentry. Moreover, the Court held that because defendant has failed to demonstrate that his deportation proceeding would have likely had a different outcome if he were afforded the opportunity to apply for discretionary relief, his assertion of innocence claim failed. The doctrine in St. Cyr by itself did not prove that defendant was actually innocent. Thus, the Court concluded that allowing defendant to withdraw his guilty plea was not warranted by the circumstances of this case.