__ U.S. __ (2017), 16-327, Lee v. United States
|Citation:||__ U.S. __, 137 S.Ct. 1958, 198 L.Ed.2d 476, 85 U.S.L.W. 4412, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 733|
|Opinion Judge:||Roberts, Chief Justice.|
|Party Name:||JAE LEE, PETITIONER v. UNITED STATES|
|Attorney:||John J. Bursch argued the cause for petitioner. Eric J. Feigin argued the cause for respondent. Paul M. Thompson, A. Marisa Chun, Erika N. Pont, Matthew M. Girgenti, for the American Bar Association, as Amicus Curiae.|
|Judge Panel:||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. Gorsuch, Justi...|
|Case Date:||June 23, 2017|
|Court:||United States Supreme Court|
Lee moved to the U.S. from South Korea with his parents when he was 13. For 35 years he never returned to South Korea, nor did he become a U.S. citizen. He is a lawful permanent resident. In 2008, Lee admitted possessing ecstasy with intent to distribute. His attorney repeatedly assured him that he would not be deported as a result of pleading guilty. Lee accepted a plea and was sentenced to a... (see full summary)
[137 S.Ct. 1959] Argued March 28, 2017.
ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Lee v. United States, 825 F.3d 311, (6th Cir.) (6th Cir. Tenn., June 8, 2016)
[137 S.Ct. 1960] [198 L.Ed.2d 479] Petitioner Jae Lee moved to the United States from South Korea with his parents when he was 13. In the 35 years he has spent in this country, he has never returned to South Korea, nor has he become a U.S. citizen, living instead as a lawful permanent resident. In 2008, federal officials received a tip from a confidential informant that Lee had sold the informant ecstasy [198 L.Ed.2d 480] and marijuana. After obtaining a warrant, the officials searched Lee's house, where they found drugs, cash, and a loaded rifle. Lee admitted that the drugs were his, and a grand jury indicted him on one count of possessing ecstasy with intent to distribute. Lee retained counsel and entered into plea discussions with the Government. During the plea process, Lee repeatedly asked his attorney whether he would face deportation; his attorney assured him that he would not be deported as a result of pleading guilty. Based on that assurance, Lee accepted a plea and was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Lee had in fact pleaded guilty to an " aggravated felony" under the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(B), so he was, contrary to his attorney's advice, subject to mandatory deportation as a result of that plea. See § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). When Lee learned of this consequence, he filed a motion to vacate his conviction and sentence, arguing that his attorney had provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. At an evidentiary hearing, both Lee and his plea-stage counsel testified that " deportation was the determinative issue" to Lee in deciding whether to accept a plea, and Lee's counsel acknowledged that although Lee's defense to the charge was weak, if he had known Lee would be deported upon pleading guilty, he would have advised him to go to trial. A Magistrate Judge recommended that Lee's plea be set aside and his conviction vacated. The District Court, however, denied relief, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. Applying the two-part test for ineffective assistance claims [137 S.Ct. 1961] from Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674, the Sixth Circuit concluded that, while the Government conceded that Lee's counsel had performed deficiently, Lee could not show that he was prejudiced by his attorney's erroneous advice.
Held : Lee has demonstrated that he was prejudiced by his counsel's erroneous advice. Pp. 5-13.
(a) When a defendant claims that his counsel's deficient performance deprived him of a trial by causing him to accept a plea, the defendant can show prejudice by demonstrating a " reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial." Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59, 106 S.Ct. 366, 88 L.Ed.2d 203.
Lee contends that he can make this showing because he never would have accepted a guilty plea had he known the result would be deportation. The Government contends that Lee cannot show prejudice from accepting a plea where his only hope at trial was that something unexpected and unpredictable might occur that would lead to acquittal. Pp. 5-8.
(b) The Government makes two errors in urging the adoption of a per se rule that a defendant with no viable defense cannot show prejudice from the denial of his right to trial. First, it forgets that categorical rules are ill suited to an inquiry that demands a " case-by-case examination" of the " totality of the evidence." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 391, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (internal quotation marks omitted); Strickland, 466 U.S. at 695, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674. More fundamentally, it [198 L.Ed.2d 481] overlooks that the Hill v. Lockhart inquiry focuses on a defendant's decision making, which may not turn solely on the likelihood of conviction after trial.
The decision whether to plead guilty also involves assessing the respective consequences of a conviction after trial and by plea. See INS v. St. Cyr, 533 U.S. 289, 322-323, 121 S.Ct. 2271, 150 L.Ed.2d 347. When those consequences are, from the defendant's perspective, similarly dire, even the smallest chance of success at trial may look attractive. For Lee, deportation after some time in prison was not meaningfully different from deportation after somewhat less time; he says he accordingly would have rejected any plea leading to deportation in favor of throwing a " Hail Mary" at trial. Pointing to Strickland, the Government urges that " [a] defendant has no entitlement to the luck of a lawless decisionmaker." 466 U.S. at 695, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674. That statement, however, was made in the context of discussing the presumption of reliability applied to judicial proceedings, which has no place where, as here, a defendant was deprived of a proceeding altogether. When the inquiry is focused on what an individual defendant would have done, the possibility of even a highly improbable result may be pertinent to the extent it would have affected the defendant's decisionmaking. Pp. 8-10.
(c) Courts should not upset a plea solely because of post hoc assertions from a defendant about how he would have pleaded but for his attorney's deficiencies. Rather, they should look to contemporaneous evidence to substantiate a defendant's expressed preferences. In the unusual circumstances of this case, Lee has adequately demonstrated a reasonable probability that he would have rejected the plea had he known that it would lead to mandatory deportation: Both Lee and his attorney testified that " deportation was the determinative issue" to Lee; his responses during his plea colloquy confirmed the importance he placed on deportation; and he had strong connections to the United [137 S.Ct. 1962] States, while he had no ties to South Korea.
The Government argues that Lee cannot " convince the court that a decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances," Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 372, 130 S.Ct. 1473, 176 L.Ed.2d 284, since deportation would almost certainly result from a trial. Unlike the Government, this Court cannot say that it would be irrational for someone in Lee's position to risk additional prison time in exchange for holding on to some chance of avoiding deportation. Pp. 10-13.
825 F.3d 311, reversed and remanded.
John J. Bursch argued the cause for petitioner.
Eric J. Feigin argued the cause for respondent.
Paul M. Thompson, A. Marisa Chun, Erika N. Pont, Matthew M. Girgenti, for the American Bar Association, as Amicus Curiae.
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.
[198 L.Ed.2d 482] Roberts, Chief Justice.
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 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 [137 S.Ct. 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...
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