Topics of immigration and deportation topped the news cycle under the Trump administration. A recent Supreme Court case, “Jae Lee v. United States of America,” proposes an interesting question with regards to deportation.
Petitioner, Jae Lee, came to America from South Korea with his family in 1982, and has lived legally in the United States, though he did not become a citizen. Later, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he became involved in the drug trade. In 2009, Lee was arrested and charged with possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute. With advice from his attorney, Lee pled guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. While Lee’s attorney had assured him that the guilty plea would not have immigration consequences, Lee’s guilty plea constituted a conviction of an aggravated felony, which is a deportable offense under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Lee appealed his conviction and made the argument that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel under the standards established in Strickland v. Washington, which provides for a two-pronged test: (1) whether the attorney’s counsel was deficient and (2) whether the deficiency prejudiced the defendant. Lee’s conviction was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, because there was not sufficient evidence that Lee’s outcome would have been substantially different had he known about the deportation risks.
The Supreme Court questioned: Should courts consider it always irrational for an illegal immigrant to reject a plea offer in the face of strong evidence of guilt when the plea will result in mandatory deportation?
On June 23, 2017 the court reversed, finding that even if the evidence is strong, a defendant may contend that he would have rejected the plea agreement and would have insisted on trial. The case was remanded to the United States Court of Appeals for further proceedings. Thus, an immigrant will have another chance to remain in the United States.
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