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Guardado v. State

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

August 27, 2014




Miguez A. Guardado[1] appeals from a judgment of the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County denying his petition for a writ of error coram nobis. He presents three issues which we have reworded slightly:

1. Whether the circuit court erred in holding that claims of ineffective assistance of counsel based on Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), were not cognizable claims in coram nobis proceedings?
2. Whether the circuit court failed to apply the correct prejudice standard to the appellant's Strickland ineffective assistance of counsel claim?
3. Whether the circuit court erred in holding that the trial court's collateral consequences advisements pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-242(e) could "cure" what would otherwise be ineffective assistance of counsel at a guilty plea proceeding?

We are satisfied that the circuit court reached the correct result. Therefore, we will affirm its judgment, although our reasoning differs from that of the court. See Offutt v. Montgomery County Bd. of Educ., 285 Md. 557, 564 n.4 (1979) ("[A]n appellate court may affirm a trial court's decision on any ground adequately shown by the record.").


On May 7, 2008, in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, Guardado pled guilty to conspiracy to commit theft over $500. Guardado was represented by counsel during the guilty plea proceeding. The court accepted his plea and sentenced Guardado to imprisonment for one year with all but two days suspended, subject to one year of supervised probation and Guardado's payment of restitution to the victim.

While receiving Guardado's plea, in relevant part, the circuit court advised Guardado as follows:

The Court: I am not asking about your citizenship, but I am telling you [that] if you are not a United States citizen[, ] this case may affect your status in this country. This case may lead to other consequences such as deportation. If you have concerns in that area you should speak to your attorney before entering this guilty plea. Do you understand that?
[Guardado]: Yes.

After the court's advisement, Guardado did not request an opportunity to confer with his counsel before entering the guilty plea. Guardado neither filed a motion to withdraw the plea pursuant to Maryland Rule 4-242(f)[2] nor filed an application for leave to appeal pursuant to Md. Code Ann. (2006) § 12-302(e) of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article and Maryland Rule 8-204.

Thereafter, the United States Department of Homeland Security ("DHS") initiated removal proceedings against Guardado, asserting that he was subject to removal pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1182(a)(6)(i).[3] On May 5, 2011, Guardado was detained by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") as a result of his guilty plea.[4]

On July 13, 2011, Guardado, represented by different counsel, filed a petition for a writ of error coram nobis pursuant to Maryland Rule 15-1202. He asserted that his conspiracy conviction caused him to be detained by ICE and barred him from filing a petition for asylum. Additionally, he claimed that his guilty plea was entered in violation of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution because his then-attorney had failed to advise him about the immigration consequences of the plea. Guardado asserted that, had he known of these consequences, he would not have pled guilty to the charge. He asked the circuit court to vacate his conviction for these reasons.

On November 2, 2011, the circuit court held a hearing on the petition for writ of coram nobis. There were no live witnesses. The evidence presented to the court consisted of: (1) a transcript of the guilty plea proceeding; (2) a stipulation that, had he been called to testify, Guardado's guilty plea lawyer would have testified that, although he "generally told his non-citizen criminal clients that they could be deported if they accepted a criminal plea, " he did not "specifically remember talking to [Guardado] about the immigration consequences of the plea"; and (3) an affidavit signed by Guardado. The affidavit stated in pertinent part:

[My] attorney told me to plead guilty, because he said there was no way I could go free. I was not told by my attorney about the consequences of my guilty plea.
At the hearing I was not told by either the prosecutor or the judge about the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. I therefore followed my attorney's advice and pled guilty to the charges. I was given one year probation and spent a weekend in jail. Had I been told, given the fact that I was innocent and I had done nothing wrong; I would definitely not have pled guilty.

The circuit court denied the petition. In a written opinion, the court expressed some doubt as to whether a claim for ineffective assistance of counsel was cognizable in the context of a petition for writ of error coram nobis.[5] Resolving that issue in Guardado's favor for purposes of analysis, the court found that he had demonstrated ineffective assistance by his guilty-plea counsel, but that he suffered no prejudice as a result. Specifically, the court stated:

Although Guardado was harmed by the unfortunate outcome of his guilty plea, it cannot be stated that he was "prejudiced" by a failure to advise him of the collateral consequences of his guilty plea. In fact, as was explained to him [by the circuit court], his guilty plea had the very consequence he was warned about. He stated he understood that and wanted to accept the offered plea.
Under Maryland Rule 4-242(e) the court, alone, is permitted to advise Guardado of the possible consequences of the plea. The trial judge did so. The advice given to Guardado comports with the requirements of the rule. Guardado was advised and chose to gamble with the collateral consequences of the guilty plea. He cannot now claim to have been uninformed, making his agreement to plead guilty involuntary and unknowing. Words spoken by the court have meaning and legal significance. They are not idle chatter to be easily disregarded by criminal defendants.


Although a multitude of contentions are presented by the parties, we conclude that this case turns on the retroactive applicability of the holding of Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010), to guilty pleas—such as Guardado's—made prior to March 31, 2010 (the date of the Padilla decision).[6] The State contends that Guardado did not bring a cognizable claim for ineffective assistance of counsel pursuant to Padilla in the context of his petition for writ of error coram nobis. We agree. Our conclusion is based upon Judge Battaglia's plurality opinion in Miller v. State, 435 Md. 174 (2013).

Nearly two years after Guardado pled guilty, the United States Supreme Court decided Padilla, in which the Court held that counsel's failure to accurately advise a defendant of the possible immigration law consequences of a guilty plea violated the defendant's right to effective assistance of counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. 559 U.S. at 368-69. The Court also held that a defendant could raise the issue in a post-conviction relief proceeding. Id. at 374. The Padilla Court did not address the possible retroactive application of its decision.

The issue of retroactivity was addressed, but as it turned out not finally settled, in Denisyuk v. State, 422 Md. 462 (2011). In that case, the Court of Appeals held that Padilla applied retroactively to post-conviction proceedings challenging guilty pleas that occurred after April 1, 1997—the effective date of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 ("IIRAIRA").[7]

Summarizing a well-developed body of Maryland law exemplified by State v. Daughtry, 419 Md. 35, 78 (2011), the Court stated that "where a decision has applied settled precedent to new and different factual situations, the decision always applies retroactively[, ] and it is only where a new rule . . . constitutes a clear break with the past . . . that the question of prospective only application arises." 422 Md. at 478 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court also pointed to our decision in Warrick v. State, 108 Md.App. 108, 113, cert. granted but dismissed at request of party, 342 Md. 507 (1996), as concisely summarizing the appropriate test: "'The general rule of retroactivity vel non can be stated simply—if the subject case merely applies settled precedents to new facts, the case is given retroactive effect, for the case is viewed as not changing the law in any material way.'" Id.

Applying the Daughtry test to the Supreme Court's reasoning in Padilla, and after surveying decisions from other jurisdictions, the Court of Appeals concluded that Padilla should be afforded retroactive effect because:

Strickland set forth a general standard for application to a specific set of facts; that decisions applying the Strickland [v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984)] standard do not establish a rule of prospective application only; and that Padilla is an application of Strickland to a specific set of facts.

422 Md. at 481. In a footnote, the Court noted that the cases from other jurisdictions that it found persuasive relied upon the retroactivity analysis set out in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989).[8] The Court continued:

Maryland has not adopted Teague, nor must it. See Danforth v. Minnesota, 552 U.S. 264, 282 (2008) (stating that Teague "does not in any way limit the authority of a state court, when reviewing its own state criminal convictions, to provide a remedy for a violation that is declared 'nonretroactive' under Teague."). Thus, even if the Supreme Court ever were to hold that Padilla is not retroactive under Teague, that holding would have no adverse effect on our analysis here. Indeed, we cite and discuss these cases because we find persuasive, and subscribe to, the analysis these courts gave to the Padilla decision.

422 Md. at 480 n.8.

The scenario posited by the Court of Appeals came to pass in Chaidez v. United States, __ U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 1103 (2013). In that case, the Supreme Court, applying the principles articulated in Teague, concluded that Padilla did not have retroactive effect in collateral proceedings. Writing for the majority, Justice Kagan noted that the Supreme Court itself had expressly declined to address whether inadequate advice as to the effect of a guilty plea upon a defendant's immigration status violated the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of effective assistance of counsel in Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 60 (1985). 133 S.Ct. at 1108. Justice Kagan surveyed decisions by federal and state appellate courts filed after Hill and before Padilla, and concluded that the general rule was that advice as to possible immigration law effects of a guilty plea was "collateral" to a guilty plea, and thus not within the pale of the Sixth Amendment's guarantee. Id. at 1109 n. 7, 8, and 9. She then stated:

So when we decided Padilla, we answered a question about the Sixth Amendment's reach that we had left open, in a way that altered the law of most jurisdictions . . . . Many courts, we acknowledged, had excluded advice about collateral matters from the Sixth Amendment's ambit; and deportation, . . . could well be viewed as such a matter . . . . And however apt that distinction might be in other contexts, it should not exempt from Sixth Amendment scrutiny a lawyer's advice (or non-advice) about a plea's deportation risk ..... We thus resolved the threshold question before us by breaching the previously chink-free wall between direct and collateral consequences: Notwithstanding the then-dominant view, "Strickland applies to Padilla's claim."
If that does not count as "break[ing] new ground" or "impos[ing] a new obligation, " we are hard pressed to know what would.

Id. at 1110 (citations omitted).

This brings us to Miller v. State, 435 Md. 174 (2013), in which the Court of Appeals sought to reconcile its holding in Denisyuk with Chaidez. Miller, like the case before us, involved a coram nobis petition seeking to vacate a guilty plea that had adverse immigration law consequences. Id. at 179-80.[9]

Miller presents a threshold problem. There is no majority opinion. Judges Battaglia, Harrell, and Adkins concluded that Chaidez limits Denisyuk's ambit to cases in which the "claims of involuntariness or ineffective assistance of counsel resulting from [the petitioner's] failure to be advised of the adverse immigration consequences of his plea had independent state bases in Maryland" at the time of the guilty plea proceeding. 435 Md. at 198. Writing separately but joining in the result, Judge McDonald stated that he found "Justice Kagan's analysis for the Chaidez majority persuasive and would apply it here." 435 Md. at 200. Chief Judge Barbera, joined by Judge Greene and former Chief Judge Bell, dissented. In their view, the Court's "reasoning in Denisyuk was sound and this Court is not required to depart from it, nor should it." 435 Md. at 205.

In Derr v. State, 434 Md. 88, 114 (2013), cert denied sub nom, Derr v. Maryland, __ U.S. __, 2014 WL 2560480 (2014), the Court of Appeals considered the precedential effect of Williams v. Illinois, __ U.S. __, 132 S.Ct. 2221 (2012), another case without a majority opinion. The Court of Appeals stated that "'[w]hen a fragmented Court decides a case and no single rationale explaining the result enjoys the assent of five Justices, the holding of the Court may be viewed as that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.'" Id. (quoting Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188, 193 (1977)). We will apply the same standard to Miller.

Padilla held that the Sixth Amendment's guarantee of adequate legal counsel is violated when a lawyer fails to advise a noncitizen client of possible immigration law consequences before the client enters a guilty plea. Chaidez, Denisyuk, and the various opinions in Miller address the circumstances under which Padilla's holding is to be applied in collateral challenges to convictions that became final before Padilla was filed. Judges Battaglia, Harrell, and Adkins stated that Padilla should be given retroactive effect only when state law provides an independent basis for a petitioner's claim. Implicit in Judge McDonald's concurring opinion is the suggestion that Padilla should not be given retroactive effect in collateral proceedings challenging criminal convictions. (This was the conclusion reached by Justice Kagan in Chaidez, whose reasoning Judge McDonald found to be persuasive.) In our view, the plurality opinion by Judge Battaglia represents the narrower holding. We turn to it now.

Judge Battaglia began the relevant portion of her analysis by noting that, in Danforth v. Minnesota, 552 U.S. 264 (2008), the Supreme Court "traced the history of its own retroactivity jurisprudence leading to Teague and concluded that its standards for retroactivity were intended 'to apply only to federal courts considering habeas corpus petitions challenging state-court criminal convictions[.]'" 435 Md. at 194 (quoting Danforth, 552 U.S. at 279). As a result, "Teague 'does not in any way limit the authority of a state court, when reviewing its own state criminal convictions, to provide a remedy for a violation that is deemed 'nonretroactive' under Teague.'" 435 Md. at 193 (footnote omitted) (quoting Danforth, 552 U.S. at 282). Judge Battaglia then came to the nub of the issue:

As we recognized in Denisyuk, we have never expressly adopted Teague, nor do we need to here. Certainly, were we to have adopted Teague as our standard, the resolution of this case would be facile and resolute. In the absence of the stewardship of Teague, though, retroactivity of Padilla really is not the issue, because, as a state court reviewing Miller's state criminal conviction, we could provide a state remedy for the violations that Miller asserts were one to have existed at that time. In so doing, however, we cannot create a federal remedy denied by the Supreme Court, but must explore whether there is a basis in state law to provide Miller a remedy, beyond that which would be afforded in federal court.

435 Md. at 194 (citation omitted; emphasis in original).[10]

The plurality continued:

The issue before us in the instant case, thus, becomes whether Miller's claims of involuntariness or ineffective assistance of counsel resulting from his failure to be advised of the adverse immigration consequences of his plea had independent state bases in Maryland in 1999. When queried on this point at oral argument, Miller's counsel could not identify any such state bases for affording Miller relief, because there are none.

Id. at 198.

In her analysis, Judge Battaglia identified only two possible grounds in Maryland law to support retroactive application of Padilla: Article 21 of the Declaration of Rights[11] and former Maryland Rule 4-242(e).[12] Neither was sufficient for the task.

Judge Battaglia pointed out that Maryland courts traditionally interpreted Article 21's guarantee of effective assistance of counsel as in pari materia with the Sixth Amendment's. Id. at 197–98 (citing, among other cases, Perry v. State, 357 Md. 37, 78 (1999); and Wiggins v. State, 352 Md. 580, 602–03 (1999)). Judge Battaglia continued:

After Strickland was decided, moreover, we flatly stated that, "[t]here is no distinction between the right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment and Art. 21 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights . . . ., " State v. Tichnell, 306 Md. 428, 440 (1986), and had not wavered from that position prior to Miller's guilty plea. * * * We, clearly, then, prior to Miller's guilty plea and conviction in 1999, had not articulated that Article 21 provided an independent state basis for finding counsel deficient based upon a failure to provide advice regarding adverse immigration consequences prior to or during guilty plea proceedings.

435 Md. at 199 (some citations omitted).

As to Rule 4-242(e), "which mandated a trial court inform a defendant of the possibility of adverse immigration consequences, " Judge Battaglia noted that the Rule further provided that "the failure to so advise a defendant did 'not itself mandate that the plea be declared invalid.'"Id. at 199. Therefore, concluded Judge Battaglia, "Miller's claims, in short, are not redressable." Id. at 200.

Miller's guilty plea was entered in 1999; Guardado's in 2008. But the applicable law is unaltered. Article 21 is still read in pari materia with the Sixth Amendment. See, e.g., State v. Walker, 417 Md. 589, 604 n.8 (2011). Moreover, Guardado did not seek relief under Article 21. His petition, arguably, can be read to suggest that the judge in the guilty plea proceeding failed to comply with what is now Rule 2-242(f). But, as the transcript of that hearing clearly indicates, the guilty plea court complied with the rule by advising Guardado that "This case may lead to other consequences such as deportation. If you have concerns in that area you should speak to your attorney before entering this guilty plea. Do you understand that?" Guardado responded "Yes." And, of course, a violation of the rule alone is not a basis to set aside the plea. Miller, 435 Md. at 199.

The circuit court did not err in denying Guardado's petition for a writ of error coram nobis because the linchpin of his contentions, namely, that Padilla applied retroactively to his case, was incorrect.


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