A man who snuck back into the US after being deported for a cocaine-trafficking plea will get a new trial because his original lawyer blew it by telling him he probably wouldn't be deported if he pleaded guilty.
Wagner Martinez is current in federal custody, awaiting another deportation to his native Dominican Republic. In a ruling today, the Massachusetts Appeals Court said Martinez's lawyer made such an egregious error that Martinez deserves the chance to convince a jury of his innocence - or to attempt another plea deal.
According to the ruling, Martinez, then 17 and a legal immigrant, was caught in 1997 selling $140 worth of cocaine to an undercover police officer in Roslindale. After pleading guilty and receiving a two-year jail sentence, he was deported. He snuck back into the US in 2007, then was picked up in 2010 after being nabbed for having a fake driver's license.
In 2010, the US Supreme Court ruled lawyers had to inform clients who are not American citizens that pleading guilty to a criminal offense could lead to their deportation. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court then decided the Supreme Court decision could be applied retroactively.
A trial-court judge had ruled against Martinez, arguing he failed to show the lawyer's error prejudiced the case against him, but the appeals court disagreed, ruling that a lawyer more conversant in immigration law could have used Martinez's life story until that point as evidence to convince prosecutors to agree to a more lenient sentence that would have actually reduced the odds of his deportation - and to continue to make such an argument today:
The defendant was seventeen years old in 1997, with no prior criminal history or disciplinary troubles. Earlier in the year, he experienced a traumatic fire at a relative's house, which killed three people. The defendant escaped through a window with an infant in his arms, and suffered injuries that required hospitalization for a week. He watched his brother-in-law burn to death, while begging for help and calling the defendant's name. The defendant became despondent and depressed, began using drugs, and was arrested shortly thereafter. The defendant's extended family has been present in the United States since before his original arrest and deportation. Since his reentry, he has had three children and has obtained a job to support them.