Manny Vaargas, Senior Counsel at the Immigrant Defense Project writes:
“Mr. Lee is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reopen his criminal case to allow him to withdraw his ill-advised guilty plea. The government’s lawyers agree that Mr. Lee was incorrectly advised. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Mr. Lee has lived in the United States now for 35 years and faces deportation to a country that he has not been in since he was a small child, the government argues that Mr. Lee was not prejudiced by the incorrect advice. The government claims that no one in Mr. Lee’s shoes facing the evidence of guilt he allegedly faced could have rationally chosen to decline to plead guilty and risk a longer prison sentence if convicted after trial.
The government’s position completely ignores how important avoiding deportation can be to individuals like Mr. Lee with deep ties to this country. Indeed, showing just how paramount a concern avoiding deportation was and continues to be for Mr. Lee, he did not submit to deportation after completing his one year prison sentence, and instead has remained in federal custody for a total of seven years while fighting for permission to withdraw his plea. This is significantly longer than the three to five year term that he had been told he risked if his case had gone to trial and he lost. What more compelling evidence can there be of how important avoiding deportation can be to someone like Mr. Lee with deep roots in the United States?
Moreover, the government’s position ignores that there is a real possibility that someone like Mr. Lee, had he declined to plead guilty to the charged offense, might have been able to negotiate a different plea that would not have triggered mandatory deportation. Defense lawyers, aware or advised about relevant immigration law, often are able to work out alternative dispositions that satisfy prosecutors and avoid disproportionate immigration penalties in cases such as his. Or, failing that, Mr. Lee might have exercised his right to a trial and defeated the distribution charge.
The Supreme Court will hear argument in Mr. Lee’s case on Tuesday (March 28). All Mr. Lee asks of the Court is that it reopen his criminal case so that it can be resolved properly and fairly based on correct information regarding the critical immigration implications for him of different possible dispositions of his case. To give due respect to the Constitution’s important right to effective counsel, the Court should grant this modest request given the clearly inadequate counsel Mr. Lee received and the undeniable prejudice he has suffered as a result.”
The case is Lee v. U.S.