Lee v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee, Western Division

DOCKET NO.: 16-327
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

GRANTED: Dec 14, 2016

Facts of the case

Jae Lee came to the United States from South Korea with his family in 1982 and has lived in the United States legally ever since, though he did not become a citizen. He eventually moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he got involved in the drug trade. In 2009, after a successful sting operation, Lee was arrested and charged with possession of ecstasy with intent to distribute. The government’s case against Lee was very strong, and on the advice of his attorney, Lee pled guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Lee’s attorney had assured him that the guilty plea would not have immigration consequences; however, Lee’s guilty plea constituted a conviction of an aggravated felony, which is a deportable offense under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Lee subsequently appealed his conviction and argued that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel under the standard established in Strickland v. Washington, which provides for a two-pronged test: whether the attorney’s counsel was deficient and whether the deficiency prejudiced the defendant. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld Lee’s conviction and determined that Lee could not satisfy the second prong of the Strickland test because there was not sufficient evidence that the outcome of Lee’s case would have been substantially different had he known about the risk of deportation.


For the purpose of analyzing an ineffective assistance of counsel claim under Strickland v. Washington, should courts consider it always irrational for a longtime legal resident of the United States to reject a plea offer in the face of strong evidence of guilt when the plea will result in mandatory deportation?