US v. Murillo: Murillo is a lawful permanent resident who came to the United States from Mexico in 1995. In 2016, he was caught after transporting drugs from New Mexico to Virginia and selling them to a confidential informant. He was charged with two drug counts and retained an attorney, partly because she had immigration experience, including “touting her knowledge of immigration law on Spanish radio.” Murillo agreed to a guilty plea, but only after assurances from counsel that he could still fight against potential deportation. In fact, the offense to which he pleaded guilty made deportation mandatory. After being sentenced to 24 months in prison, Murillo learned that after he served his sentence he would be deported.
Murillo filed a 2255 motion arguing that counsel had been ineffective with regard to her advice on the immigration consequences of his plea and that he would not have accepted the plea had he been informed correctly. The district court denied the motion, not concluding that Murillo couldn’t show any prejudice even if counsel had provided deficient performance because he failed to prove that it would have been rational to reject the plea agreement. In particular, the court held that Murillo could not overcome a provision in his plea agreement that he “want[ed] to plead guilty regardless of any immigration consequences.”
On appeal a divided Fourth Circuit reversed the district court. It held that the district court put too much weight on the single line in the plea agreement, as arrayed against the other evidence presented that Murillo’s main concern during the proceedings was the impact a conviction would have on his immigration status. Doing so went against “Strickland’s fact-dependent prejudice analysis.” While language from a plea agreement was one of those relevant facts, it could not be determinative. A willingness to “plead guilty regardless of any immigration consequences,” the court held, “does not mean that the defendant was willing to plead guilty if doing so meant mandatory deportation” where the context was that everyone involved suggested deportation was not mandatory.
Judge King dissented, arguing that Murillo failed to show that his attorney had been deficient in her representation of him in addition to failing to show prejudice.