Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Writ of error coram nobis successful

US v. Akinsade:  In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit granted the appellant’s request for a writ of error coram nobis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. sect. 1651, vacating his prior conviction for embezzlement, to which he plead guilty in 2000. Akinsade claimed that he was misadvised by his attorney about the immigration consequences of taking a plea, and the Fourth Circuit agreed. When making the decision whether to plead, his attorney had advised that Akinsade could not be deported based on his single offense, and that he could only be deported if he had two felony convictions, which advice was contrary to the law at that time.

In order to reach its decision, the Fourth Circuit enunciated a standard it will use in reviewing petitions for writ of error coram nobis: abuse of discretion. In order to receive this type of extraordinary relief, a petitioner must show the following: 1) a more usual remedy is not available; 2) valid reasons exist for a failure to attack a conviction earlier; 3) adverse consequences from the conviction exist, such that the case or controversy requirement of Article III is satisfied; and 4) the error is "of the most fundamental character." This final requirement received the most attention in this opinion.

Prior to reaching the Fourth Circuit, the district court that received Akinsade’s petition denied his petition without a hearing, on the grounds that this extraordinary remedy was not available for a "mere garden-variety" ineffective assistance of counsel claim that did not allege a "fundamental error." The district court did find that Akinsade’s counsel’s affirmative misrepresentations rendered the advice Akinsade received constitutionally defective, but that Akinsade did not experience prejudice as a result.

The Fourth Circuit points to three aspects of Akinsade’s plea that caused him to experience prejudice: the equivocal nature of the admonishment - that his plea could lead to deportation, when in fact deportation was a mandatory consequence; his counsel’s affirmative mis-advice clearly contrary to the law; and the severity of deportation itself as a consequence. With respect to the mis-advice, the Fourth Circuit reiterated and applied its position from U.S. v. Gajendragadkar, in which it found prejudice where the defendant, whose counsel misinformed him of deportation consequences, had significant familial ties to the U.S. and thus, would reasonable risk going to trial over taking a plea and facing certain deportation. The Fourth Circuit did not discuss a retroactive application of Padilla because neither the appellant nor the government contested the fact that the incorrect advice Akinsade received was constitutionally deficient.

The dissent noted that the civil immigration proceedings against Akinsade in the Second Circuit recently decided that Akinsade had not, in fact, pleaded guilty to an aggravated felony, and thus, the government did not plan to oppose termination of Akinsade’s deportation. The dissent found it unnecessary to vacate Akinsade’s plea when he would not be deported as a result of it.

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