Immigration Law

Supreme Court (6-2) on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel: Jae Lee v. U.S.

Jae Lee v. U.S., June 23, 2017 - "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. ... 

The Government concedes that Lee’s plea-stage counsel provided inadequate representation when he assured Lee that he would not be deported if he pleaded guilty. Brief for United States 15. The question is whether Lee can show he was prejudiced by that erroneous
advice. ... 

In the unusual circumstances of this case, we conclude that Lee has adequately demonstrated a reasonable probability that he would have rejected the plea had he known that it would lead to mandatory deportation. ... 

Lee’s claim that he would not have accepted a plea had he known it would lead to deportation is backed by substantial and uncontroverted evidence. Accordingly we conclude Lee has demonstrated a “reasonable probability that, but for [his] counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” Hill, 474 U. S., at 59.

The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion."

[Hats off to John J. Bursch of Bursch Law PLLC, Patrick McNally of Weatherly McNally & Dixon PLC and Matthew T. Nelson of Warner Norcross & Judd LLP!]