The Supreme Judicial Court today ordered a new trial for a Dominican national who has lived in Boston since he was 11 because he never would have pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute if he knew that would mean mandatory deportation.
In its ruling, the state's highest court said Elan DeJesus's lawyer knew the man was not a citizen and that his warning that he would be "eligible for deportation" if he pleaded guilty in connection with a 2008 arrest was not really strong enough. At his plea hearing, DeJesus was represented by another lawyer from his attorney's firm, and that lawyer didn't discuss the immigration implications of his plea at all.
In the 2008 incident, police, acting on a tip, arrested DeJesus and another man for cocaine possession - 28 grams of cocaine was allegedly found on his body at booking.
A judge agreed DeJesus deserved a new trial; Suffolk County prosecutors, however, argued he got a fair trial the first time and that telling him he was "eligible for parole" was an adequate warning of what would happen if he pleaded guilty.
The justices sided with DeJesus:
Because the record provides a sufficient basis to support the judge's determination that the defendant met his burden to establish "a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, he would not have pleaded guilty and would have insisted on going to trial" ... there was no abuse of discretion in the allowance of the defendant's motion for a new trial seeking to withdraw his guilty plea.
The court noted DeJesus's status in Boston:
All of the defendant's family members reside in the United States, including a daughter and, as of the date of the hearing, his pregnant wife. Although he is not a United States citizen, the defendant is now a lawful permanent resident of the United States. The defendant attended Boston public schools and graduated from Boston English High School with the aid of an individualized special needs education plan. After graduation, the defendant maintained steady employment with a parcel shipping company, where, at the time of his arrest, he had been employed for eight years loading boxes onto trucks. The arrest in this case was the first time that the defendant had been arrested.
Justice Robert Cordy dissented, saying DeJesus's lawyer actually did a very good job informing him of the consequences of a guilty finding and that he even won a delay in the plea hearing so that DeJesus could better come to grips with what a guilty plea would mean, given his status as a non-citizen.