Skip to content
Name: Lee v. United States
Case #: 16-327
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 06/23/2017
Subsequent History: 137 S.Ct. 1958

Defendant showed that he was prejudiced by his attorney’s erroneous advice because there was contemporaneous evidence he would have insisted on a trial had he known his conviction would lead to mandatory deportation. Lee pleaded guilty in federal court to possessing ecstasy with intent to distribute after several assurances by his counsel that the government could not deport him unless it was a part of the plea agreement. Contrary to his counsel’s advice, Lee faced mandatory deportation and subsequently filed a motion to vacate his conviction and sentence based on his attorney’s constitutionally ineffective assistance. The district court denied relief, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Reversed. When a defendant claims that his counsel’s deficient performance deprived him of a trial by causing him to accept a deal, the defendant can show prejudice by demonstrating a “reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial.” (Hill v. Lockhart (1985) 474 U.S. 52, 59.) Here, there was no dispute that Lee’s plea-stage counsel provided inadequate representation when he assured Lee that he would not be deported if he pleaded guilty. The Court declined to adopt a per se rule that a defendant with no viable defense cannot show prejudice from the denial of his right to trial. The prejudice inquiry in these circumstances “focuses on a defendant’s decision-making, which may not turn solely on the likelihood of conviction after trial.” Here, the evidence showed that deportation was the determinative issue in Lee’s decision whether to accept the plea deal. In the “unusual circumstances of this case,” the Court concluded “that Lee has adequately demonstrated a reasonable probability that he would have rejected the plea had he known that it would lead to mandatory deportation.”

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: