A defendant’s trial counsel was deficient by not advising his client about the risk of deportation following a guilty plea, but the defendant wasn’t prejudiced by the performance, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded.
In Heriberto Suarez v. State of Indiana, No. 02A05-1106-PC-325, Heriberto Suarez claimed the post-conviction court erred in denying his petition for post-conviction relief on the basis of ineffective trial counsel. Suarez, who is from Mexico but has lived in the United States since the 1950s without becoming a resident, pleaded guilty to Class C felony child molesting. He faced a Class A felony molesting charge involving his young granddaughter. His attorney did not advise him that he could be deported following his guilty plea. His attorney, Patrick Arata, said he assumed Suarez was an American citizen so he did not ask about Suarez’s status.
Suarez testified he pleaded guilty to the Class C felony charge to receive a shorter sentence so he could take care of his blind wife, who is in poor health. He said he would have fought the Class A felony charge had he known that pleading guilty would subject him to possible deportation.
The appellate court noted that were Suarez to be deported, it would be difficult for him to provide for his wife, although he had a large family that could care for her in his absence. Suarez’s objective probability of success at trial was fairly low, and the benefit conferred upon him by his guilty plea was substantial. Instead of facing up to 50 years in prison, meaning he would have served 41 years, he faced a sentence between two and 8 years and actually received a four-year sentence.
While his attorney was deficient for not advising Suarez about possible deportation, he was not prejudiced by his attorney’s failure to notify him of the risk, the judges concluded.