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SJC Vacates Denial of Defendant’s Motion to Withdraw his Guilty Plea on Padilla Grounds, Remanding for Further Findings by Trial Court

united-states-passport-1422398-225x300The SJC vacated the denial of the defendant‟s motion to withdraw his guilty plea in Commonwealth v. Lys and remanded the case because the judge, in evaluating the motion, “(1) might have failed to recognize his discretion to credit or discredit the defendant‟s affidavits [pertaining] to plea counsel‟s allegedly” inadequate advice on immigration consequences; and “(2) failed to make factual findings about whether special circumstances relevant to the prejudice inquiry existed.”

The background was as follows. “The defendant pleaded guilty … to violating multiple controlled substances laws. He was a lawful permanent resident who had emigrated from Haiti, and his plea rendered him deportable.” Subsequently, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw his plea on the ground that his trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance by failing to advise him adequately as to the immigration consequences of the plea. In two affidavits in support of his motion, the defendant contended “that he would not have pleaded guilty if his counsel had properly advised him.” Plea counsel did not submit an affidavit. The judge denied the motion after a nonevidentiary hearing. Regarding the absence of an affidavit from plea counsel, the judge “declared that, „[f]aced with this paucity of factual information,‟ „the [c]ourt feels strongly that it must give the [d]efendant‟s … [a]ffidavits full credit.‟ Accordingly, the judge found that plea counsel had performed deficiently. But the judge went on to find that this deficient performance did not prejudice the defendant. Without making any factual findings, [the judge] concluded that „[he did] not find the presence of any special circumstances‟ suggesting that the defendant would have placed particular emphasis on immigration consequences when deciding whether to plead guilty.” The defendant appealed.

In its decision, the SJC stated that although “[a] motion judge may consider the absence of an affidavit from allegedly ineffective counsel in the adequacy analysis,” “this failure need not create an inference that the defendant‟s affidavit must be credited, as the judge here suggested.” “Because the judge might have failed to recognize his discretion to credit or discredit the defendant‟s affidavits in the absence of an affidavit from plea counsel, we remand, with instructions to provide findings relating to the issue of [plea counsel‟s deficient performance] and, if necessary, to hold an … evidentiary hearing … for that purpose.‟ [Commonwealth v.] Sylvain, 466 Mass. [422,] 439 [2013 (Sylvain I), S.C., 473 Mass. 832 (2016)].”

Regarding the judge‟s failure to make findings as to whether there were special circumstances suggesting “that a reasonable person in the defendant‟s circumstances would have gone to trial if given constitutionally effective advice,” the SJC ordered that, on remand, the judge should provide findings on that subject.

Although the potential consequences of a criminal conviction are significant for any person, such consequences may be especially dire for non-citizens. It is of the utmost importance that any non-citizen charged with a criminal case know the potential consequences of a plea. AttorneyDaniel Cappetta has significant experience representing both citizen and non-citizen clients in criminal matters. He makes sure that all of his clients are fully informed and in the position to make the best decision possible for the case. If you or a loved one is charged with a criminal case that may have immigration implications, call Attorney Cappetta today for a thorough evaluation of your case.