Justia Immigration Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
Ronald Sewell, a 20-year-old Jamaican national, pleaded guilty to two counts of first degree robbery and pleaded guilty as charged to possession of a stolen firearm. The district court sentenced him to serve three years imprisonment at hard labor without parole eligibility for each first degree robbery, and one year imprisonment at hard labor for possession of a stolen firearm, with the sentences to run concurrently. After he served his sentences, the federal Government commenced removal proceedings based on these felony guilty pleas. Sewell filed an application for post-conviction relief in which he contended the guilty pleas had to be set aside because counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to advise him that they would result in his removal from the United States. Sewell’s former counsel testified at the post-conviction evidentiary hearing stating she was unaware that Sewell was not a United States citizen, and that she would have advised him of the possibility of removal if she had known his status as a noncitizen. Former counsel also testified that Sewell spoke English fluently and without an accent, and that he never informed her that he was born outside of the United States. The judge who presided over the post-conviction evidentiary hearing also accepted the guilty pleas. The judge indicated that she recalled the case and agreed that nothing about Sewell would have prompted anyone to question whether he was a United States citizen. Nonetheless, the district court granted Sewell’s application for post-conviction relief and ordered that his guilty pleas be withdrawn. The court noted that no one had advised defendant of the strong likelihood he would be removed from the United States based on his guilty pleas, the plea form did not contain any place to indicate citizenship, and therefore the court found it incumbent upon it to grant the relief requested. The State appealed. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed, finding that under the circumstances here, Sewell failed to carry his burden post-conviction that his attorney’s failure to inquire into his citizenship fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Therefore, the district court erred in granting Sewell’s application for post-conviction relief and in ordering that Sewell’s guilty pleas be withdrawn. Accordingly, the State’s application was granted and the rulings of the courts below reversed. Sewell’s guilty pleas were reinstated. View "Louisiana v. Sewell" on Justia Law