State v. Marzouq, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Dec. 3, 2019)

The defendant, a lawful permanent resident, was charged with various drug offenses and pled guilty under Alford to the charges of possession of heroin and maintaining a vehicle or dwelling, for which the trial judge imposed a two-year suspended sentence. About one year into his sentence, the defendant was seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and placed into detention and removal proceedings. He filed a motion for appropriate relief (MAR), arguing that had he known the plea would affect his immigration status and result in deportation, he would not have taken it. The trial judge denied the MAR. The Court of Appeals granted certiorari and ordered the trial judge to review whether the defendant’s Alford plea was induced by misadvice of counsel and whether the misadvice resulted in prejudice. The trial judge again denied the MAR. He found that the defendant had been advised that he might be deported if he pled guilty and that he should speak to an immigration attorney. The Court of Appeals granted certiorari a second time. Relying on Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010), and State v. Nkiam, 243 N.C. App. 777 (2015), the Court recognized that it is not sufficient for an attorney to advise a client that there is a risk of deportation where, as here, deportation is presumptively mandatory. The Court stated: “Waffling language suggesting a mere possibility of deportation does not adequately inform the client of the risk before him or her, and does not permit a defendant to make a reasoned and informed decision.” The Court remanded the case to the trial judge to determine prejudice—that is, whether there is a reasonable probability that but for counsel’s ineffective assistance, the result of the proceeding would have been different. The Court specifically directed the trial court to consider the impact of other charges against the defendant. The Court recognized that a defendant cannot show a different outcome, as required by the prejudice standard, if deportation would still result from other charges. The Court found the record insufficient on this issue. The defendant had a prior drug paraphernalia conviction, but that offense does not render him presumptively deportable, and other pending charges, but the record did not contain findings as to whether any other convictions made the defendant deportable.