Last Tuesday’s trial, better known as Lee vs. the U.S., was a struggle throughout with Lee claiming that pleading guilty based on bad lawyering should be voided, while the government claimed that he would have been found guilty anyway regardless of his lawyer’s advice.
Four of the eight justices, including Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, were rather receptive to Lee’s request. However, the other three justices—Justices John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito—opined that it would not be reasonable to accept Lee’s demands, while Justice Clarence Thomas did not appear to have taken a stance during the oral proceedings.
“The plea resulted in a mandatory banishment from the U.S.,” said Joh Bursch, Lee’s attorney. “No one seriously doubts that if Mr. Lee knew the truth about his plea, he would have rejected it.”
In response, Justice Kennedy explained that deportation was always a possibility for Lee, who is not an American citizen, and that he was fully informed by the judge during the trial process. He then explained to Bursch that he must be able to prove that Lee would have won the trial if it were not for the bad advice.
Chief Justice Roberts also added that accepting Lee’s demands could potentially open up unnecessary chances for many in the incarcerated community to overturn court decisions.
However, Justice Kagan opposed levying punishment on Lee.
“Why can’t a judge find . . . that it is objectively reasonable to give up six or eight or nine months for a shot at staying in this country rather than being deported to a place that you don’t know and where you have no ties?,” Kagan said. ““I mean, you know, if somebody gave me that choice, sign me up.”
The deportation case involving Lee is an important one as President Donald Trump has already promised a stricter regulation to deport immigrants convicted of crimes.
Assistant Solicitor General Eric J. Feigin, who represented the U.S. government in trial, added that there would be no legal ground to deport Lee if the Supreme Court overturned the decision.
In the Supreme Court’s similar 2010 Padilla vs. Kentucky decision, Justice John Paul said that “deportation is an integral part of the penalty that may be imposed on noncitizen defendants who plead guilty to specific crimes” and that accurate legal advice “has never been more important.”
However, the decision on Lee’s case still remains uncertain.
In a similar case in 2000, Mexican immigrant Rosalba Chaidez cited bad lawyering to appeal to the Supreme Court after he was found guilty of conspiring an insurance fraud, but the decision eventually went against him.
Lee has already pleaded guilty in 2009. Thus, it may be difficult for him to overturn the decision that has already been made.