Lee v. United States

Summarized by:

  • Court: U.S. Supreme Court Certiorari Granted
  • Area(s) of Law: Immigration
  • Date Filed: December 14, 2016
  • Case #: 16-327
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 825 F.3d 311 (6th Cir. 2016)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether it is always irrational for a immigrant, who has resided in the United States for a substantial time and who is charged with a crime, to choose to refuse to take a plea and proceed to trial in spite of overwhelming evidence of guilt, if taking a plea would subject the individual to removal?

Petitioner immigrated to the United States in 1982 and has resided here legally since that time without becoming a United States citizen. Petitioner was arrested and charged with possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute, an aggravated felony for purposes of removal. The evidence against Petitioner was overwhelming, and Petitioner's attorney encouraged Petitioner to take a plea deal in exchange for a lighter sentence after incorrectly informing Petitioner that he would not be subject to deportation. After taking the plea and discovering that his conviction subjected him to removal, Petitioner sought to have his conviction vacated on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Sixth Circuit applied the two pronged test set forth in Strickland v. Washington and found that Petitioner did not satisfy the prejudice prong that required that Petitioner show "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." The Sixth Circuit found that Petitioner did not make this showing, because a decision by the Petitioner to proceed to trial in the face of overwhelming evidence, with most likely nothing to gain but more jail time, would not be rational. The Sixth Circuit reaffirmed its position and that of several other circuits that the denial of a defendant to go for a "hail Mary" with no bona fide defense does not in and of itself constitute prejudice. On appeal to the Supreme Court, Petitioner asks the Court to resolve the circuit split on this matter that potentially leads to the deportation of individuals that varies based on the jurisdiction that he or she is prosecuted in. Petitioner also argues that the stance taken by the Sixth Circuit and other circuits should be overruled, because it is rational for a multitude of reasons for criminal defendants who are  longtime resident of the United States to refuse to take a plea and proceed to trial when that plea could result in the defendants' removal. 

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