A helpful reader has reminded me that fans of Padilla retroactivity may want to know about the recent decision issued by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Akinsade v. United States, No. 09-7554. Akinsade involved a Nigerian immigrant who sought coram nobis relief based on the failure of his counsel to correctly advise him on the immigration consequences of a plea to embezzlement. The lawyer advised Akinsade that he could not be deported based on a plea to this charge, when, in fact, he could have been. No dispute that this was ineffective assistance. The controversy, however, had to do with whether the district court cured the prejudice which flowed from the attorney’s misadvice during its plea colloquy with Akinsade. The Fourth Circuit answered in the negative, and in doing so, granted Akinsade coram nobis relief.
There are a few things to note about the Akinsade decision. First, in finding that the District Court did not “cure” the prejudice which arose from counsel’s misadvice, the Fourth Circuit was careful to emphasize the different constitutional rights underpinning a guilty plea proceeding and the effective assistance of counsel in a criminal matter. As the Fourth Circuit put it:
Our decision today does not change the role of or impose any new obligations on the district court in Rule 11 proceedings. A district court’s duty to ensure a knowing and voluntary plea arises from the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process and thus affords defendants a right distinct from the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. While we have recognized the inter-relationship between the two amendments in the context of guilty pleas, see United States v. Smith, 640 F.3d 580, 582 (4th Cir. 2011), we have never suggested that the sufficient protection of one right automatically corrects any constitutional deficiency of the other. Indeed, the Supreme Court has rejected a very similar argument. See Missouri v. Frye, 566 U.S. ___ (2012) (slip op., at 5) (explaining that the Court in Padilla, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010),rejected the state’s argument that a knowing and voluntary plea supersedes defense counsel’s affirmative misadvice on deportation consequences). As a result, we in no way suggest that in performing its role during the proceeding, a district court needs to be “clairvoyant” or must “guess” about whether a defendant has been misinformed regarding a particular consequence of a plea. When, as here, the claim raised is that of ineffective assistance of counsel, the overall focus must be on the prejudice arising from counsel‘s deficient performance. If a district court’s admonishment so happens to correct the deficient performance then there is no prejudice; however, if there is no correction, then our scrutiny is not directed toward the district court but appropriately to the constitutional offender.
Second, the Fourth Circuit expressly declined to rule on the issue of whether Padilla applied retroactively to the petitioner’s claim since the Government acknowledged that the misadvice provided by counsel was constitutionally deficient. In essence, this is not so much a Padilla case as it is a Strickland case. Which lends some support to the notion that Padilla did not create a new rule for retroactivity purposes.
Third, the finding of prejudice by the Fourth Circuit is significant in that the court looked beyond the so-called likelihood of success at trial to the defendant’s desire to contest the Government’s case because of the severity of the consequences which might befall him should he be convicted. As the Fourth Circuit put it:
Akinsade still must show that the misadvice is a “but for” cause of his entering the guilty plea. Under the prejudice prong of Strickland, ”[t]he potential strength of the state’s case must inform our analysis, inasmuch as a reasonable defendant would surely take it into account.” Ostrander v. Green, 46 F.3d 347, 356 (4th Cir. 1995)(citing Hill, 474 U.S. at 59-60) overruled on other grounds by O’Dell v. Netherland, 95 F.3d 1214 (4th Cir. 1996) (en banc). Applying this standard, we have held that counsel’s affirmative misadvice on collateral consequences to a guilty plea was prejudicial where the prosecution’s evidence “proved to be more than enough” for a guilty verdict but was “hardly invincible on its face.” Ostrander, 46 F.3d at 356. We have further found prejudice where the defendant, whose counsel misinformed him of deportation consequences, had significant familial ties to the United States and thus would reasonably risk going to trial instead of pleading guilty and facing certain deportation. United States v. Gajendragadkar, No. 97-7267, 1998 WL 352866, at *2 (4th Cir. June 3, 1998). In Gajendragadkar we reasoned that “[a]lthough a trial would present the risk of deportation, it would provide [the defendant] the opportunity to contest the Government’s evidence, or failing that, to challenge the Government’s estimate loss.” Id.
The decision can be downloaded here.