Lee v. United States: Supreme for Court Sets Prejudice Standard for Bad Advice on Immigration
Defendants who plead guilty based on bad advice about immigration consequences can show prejudice to set aside their pleas by showing a reasonable likelihood that they would not have pleaded guilty but would have gone to trial, even though they almost certainly would have been convicted at trial, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled June 23 in Lee v. United States.
Such defendants, to show prejudice, need not show that they likely would have obtained a favorable result at trial.
Lee sought federal habeas relief for ineffective assistance of plea counsel. The District Court ruled that counsel had performed deficiently by giving wrong immigration advice, but Lee could not show prejudice in light of overwhelming evidence of guilt. The Sixth Circuit affirmed.
“When a defendant alleges his counsel’s deficient performance led him to accept a guilty plea rather than go to trial, we do not ask whether, had he gone to trial, the result of that trial ‘would have been different’ than the result of the plea bargain,” the Court said. “That is because while, while we ordinarily ‘apply a strong presumption of reliability to judicial proceedings,’ we cannot accord any such presumption ‘to judicial proceedings that never took place.’”
The wrong advice on immigration affected Lee’s understanding of the consequences of pleading guilty, the Court said. Lee was prejudiced by the denial of the trial to which he had a right.