Friday, February 15, 2019

Redacted court ruling vacates guilty plea based on ineffective assistance of counsel

The Court of Appeals has ruled that a criminal defendant was denied the effective assistance of counsel who failed to tell him about the immigration consequences of his guilty plea. What makes the case interesting is that (1) portions of the case are redacted and (2) the federal government flip-flopped on whether to support the defendant's arguments or not.

The case is Doe v. United States, issued on February 14. The facts are not that unusual. Doe pleaded guilty to a crime but his lawyer, who was not well-versed in immigration law, did not tell him he faced mandatory deportation if he pleaded guilty. The case reaches the Second Circuit because the district court rejected the ineffective assistance argument. The government initially opposed Doe's application for coram nobis relief. Then it changed its mind and asked the district court to rule in Doe's favor. But then, on appeal, the government came out against Doe's position. This troubles the Court of Appeals (Katzmann, Kearse and Chin). The unspoken reality is this flip-flop was probably a Trump administration maneuver. But the Court of Appeals does quote from former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who said the Justice Department is supposed to seek justice and not just convictions. In the end, based on how the Court views the record and Doe's desire to clear his name and fight the charges, had Doe known about the immigration consequences of his plea, he might not have taken the plea. 

Portions of the Second Circuit ruling are blacked out, so we don't know (1) the identity of lawyers representing Doe or even the federal government; (2) which district court this case originated in; (3) what crime Doe pleaded guilty to; (4) the dates certain things in the case happened

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