Rodriguez-Penton v. United States, No. 15-6306 (6th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Rodriguez-Penton moved from Cuba to the U.S. when he was 15. He is a lawful permanent resident. Rodriguez-Penton was indicted for conspiracy to distribute and possess Oxycodone, retained counsel Butler, and initially cooperated but stopped because he feared for his family’s safety. The government offered Rodriguez-Penton plea deals but he entered an open guilty plea. Rodriguez-Penton’s Cuban citizenship arose during the hearing: the court stated that there was no need to review the civil rights one forfeits by pleading guilty; inquired whether, due to Rodriguez-Penton’s citizenship, there would be an early sentencing; and asked about an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainer, but did not advise Rodriguez-Penton that pleading guilty might have adverse immigration consequences and sentenced him to a 121-month prison term. Rodriguez-Penton alleges that he learned of the deportation risk after sentencing, during a meeting with his prison counselor. Rodriguez-Penton appealed, represented by Butler, arguing that his plea was not knowing and voluntary. After hearing testimony from Butler and an interpreter, a magistrate concluded that Butler merely told Rodriguez-Penton that he did not have to worry about deportation. Rodriguez-Penton testified unequivocally that he “would not have gone to trial, even if he could not have negotiated a better plea arrangement.” The district court dismissed his 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The legal standard for ineffective assistance of counsel claims has changed in the context of non-citizens faced with criminal charges. Rodriguez-Penton asserted that his decision-making process would have been different if he had been properly advised; the government has not offered any countervailing evidence that Rodriguez-Penton could not have secured a more favorable plea.