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.
The doctrine of ineffective assistance of counsel is rooted in the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right to effective legal representation in criminal proceedings. To successfully argue ineffective assistance of counsel, a defendant must establish two crucial elements: deficient performance and prejudice. To prove deficient performance, a defendant must demonstrate that their attorney’s performance fell below the standard of what an ordinary, albeit fallible, lawyer would provide. In this case, it pertains to counsel’s failure to adequately inform the defendant about the immigration consequences of his guilty plea. Additionally, a defendant must prove that they suffered harm as a direct result of their attorney’s subpar performance. This entails showing that, had they received effective counsel, they would not have pleaded guilty but instead pursued an alternative course of action, such as opting for a trial.
The issue of immigration consequences for noncitizens convicted of certain offenses is extremely important. Legal counsel is obligated to communicate this information clearly to clients who may face these consequences. In the case at hand, the defendant asserted that his plea counsel had failed to warn him of the mandatory deportation risk associated with his guilty plea. While the judge found that the plea judge had issued a warning required by state law, stating that a guilty plea “may have” immigration consequences, such general warnings are insufficient to fulfill the lawyer’s professional obligation. Counsel should convey the specific and dire information regarding deportation that may result from such a plea.
The court, recognizing the deficiencies in the motion judge’s findings, vacated the order denying the defendant’s motion for a new trial and remanded the case for further proceedings. Specifically, the judge’s findings did not sufficiently address whether the plea counsel’s performance was indeed deficient in failing to convey the serious immigration consequences associated with the guilty plea.
Are You Looking for a Respected Boston Criminal Lawyer to Represent You?
If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug crime in Massachusetts, The consequences of inadequate counsel can be life-altering, particularly for noncitizens facing deportation. The Massachusetts criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy understand how state criminal charges can interplay with federal immigration rules, and our representation is designed to address both the criminal and immigration consequences of a Massachusetts prosecution. If you’re facing charges, you deserve an effective advocate. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.