In the realm of criminal defense law, few issues are as critical as the effectiveness of legal counsel. The United States and Massachusetts Supreme Courts have both established that Massachusetts residents are entitled to a constitutional right to effective criminal defense counsel after being charged with a crime. A panel of The Appeals Court of Massachusetts recently reversed a lower court ruling denying a defendant the opportunity to withdraw a guilty plea for a drug possession charge, after his counsel failed to accurately advise him of the immigration consequences of the guilty plea.
The defendant, originally from the Dominican Republic, arrived in the Boston area in 2003. According to the facts discussed in the judicial opinion, the defendant was stopped by police in August 2008 on suspicion of a traffic violation. During the stop, police discovered suspected narcotics in his car’s center console, leading to multiple charges, including possession of a class B substance with intent to distribute. This charge carried a potentially severe punishment—up to ten years in a state prison.
In December 2008, the defendant opted to plead guilty to the drug offense and received a sentence of probation for one year, which he successfully completed. Fast forward to 2021, and the defendant, represented by new counsel, filed a motion for a new trial. His claim was centered on the allegation that his original plea counsel had failed to provide accurate advice regarding the immigration consequences of his guilty plea. According to the defendant’s affidavit, if he had been correctly informed of these consequences, he would not have pleaded guilty.