Lee v. U.S.

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: June 23, 2017
  • Case #: 16-327
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: ROBERTS, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ALITO, J., joined except as to Part I. GORSUCH, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Sixth Amendment, an undocumented criminal defendant, who pleaded guilty to a deportable offense due to ineffective assistance of counsel, meets the prejudice prong of Strickland v. Washington if there is sufficient evidence to establish a “reasonable probability” that the defendant would have proceeded to trial but for the erroneous legal advice.

Petitioner, an undocumented immigrant residing in the United States for 35 years, was indicted by a federal grand jury for possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute. Defense counsel advised Petitioner to plead guilty to the charge in exchange for a reduced sentence. Counsel also advised Petitioner that he would not be subject to deportation. After discovering that the charge was a deportable “aggravated felony” under the Immigration and Nationality Act, Petitioner moved to vacate his conviction due to ineffective assistance of counsel, pursuant to the Sixth Amendment and Strickland v. Washington, 466 U. S. 668 (1984). The federal district court denied the motion, finding there was “overwhelming evidence of [Petitioner’s] guilt” that would have resulted in “a significantly longer sentence” if a trial was held. Therefore, it held that Petitioner was not prejudiced by the faulty advice, as required by Strickland. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court determined Petitioner was prejudiced, applying to the standard set forth in Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U. S. 52, 59 (1985), because there was a “reasonable probability” that Petitioner would have gone to trial but for the ineffective assistance of counsel. Specifically, the Court noted that Petitioner would have rejected the deportable guilty plea, because of the severity of deportation as a collateral consequence, Petitioner’s repeated requests to counsel concerning the risks of deportation, the length of his residency, his strong ties to the U.S., and the lack of any ties to his country of origin. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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