Decided: July 25, 2012
The Fourth Circuit granted defendant Temitope Akinsade’s petition for writ of error coram nobis and vacated his conviction, finding that the district court’s admonishment during its Rule 11 proceeding was insufficient to correct Akinsade’s attorney’s mistake and additionally finding the attorney’s mistake to be a “but for” cause of Akinsade’s decision to enter a guilty plea. This case arose when immigration officials arrested Akinsade nine years after he entered a guilty plea based on his attorney’s advice that such plea could not result in his deportation from the United States. While the district court judge reviewed the ramifications of Akinsade’s plea with Akinsade during a Rule 11 hearing, including the possibility of deportation, Akinsade relied on his attorney’s assurances in proceeding with his guilty plea.
After his arrest, and under threat of deportation, Akinsade filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis in federal district court, arguing that his Sixth Amendment rights were violated due to his attorney’s errant advice. The district court denied Akinsade’s petition, finding that the attorney’s affirmative misrepresentations to Akinsade amounted to constitutionally deficient assistance of counsel, but concluding that Akinsade was not prejudiced.
The Fourth Circuit disagreed with the district court’s reasoning and determined that Akinsade met the four requirements needed to seek the relief provided by a writ of error coram nobis. Specifically, the Court found that (1) Akinsade could not seek relief under typical remedies, (2) valid reasons existed for Akinsade’s failure to attack his conviction at an earlier time, (3) the risk of deportation amounted to an adverse consequence sufficient to satisfy the case or controversy requirement of Article III, and (4) the attorney’s “misadvice” was an error of the “most fundamental character” such that coram nobis relief was required to achieve justice. Additionally, in rendering its decision, the Court clarified a district court’s obligations during Rule 11 proceedings and found that when faced with a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a district court’s admonishment must correct attorneys’ deficient performances in order to overcome any prejudice to the defendants. Therefore, because the Court found that the district court’s admonishment did not correct the particular “misadvice” given by the attorney in this case, and because the Court found the “misadvice” to be a “but for” cause of Akinsade’s decision to enter his guilty plea, it concluded that the misadvice prejudiced Akinsade in a manner necessitating coram nobis relief.
– Allison Hite