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United States v. Ajala

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 27, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
OLUWAGBENGA AJALA

          MEMORANDUM

          Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge

         Federal prison inmate Oluwagbenga Ajala pled guilty to wire fraud conspiracy and, on May 9, 2017, was sentenced to 21 months in prison. Represented by new counsel, he has filed a timely motion to vacate under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.

         Ajala contends that he was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel because his attorney failed to advise him properly regarding the immigration consequences of his guilty plea. See Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 374 (2010). A defendant alleging ineffective assistance of counsel must establish both deficient performance and resulting prejudice. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688, 692 (1984).

         In the context of a guilty plea, prejudice is shown by establishing that, but for the deficient advice, the defendant would not have pled guilty but rather would have insisted on going to trial, despite the strength of the evidence against him. See Lee v. U.S., 137 S.Ct. 1958, 1965 (2017); Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 59 (1985).[1]

         The inquiry in this case does not reach the second step, however, because the record established that Ajala was adequately advised of the likelihood he would be deported as a result of his fraud conviction. Trial counsel, James Crawford, understood that Ajala had also consulted an immigration attorney. In an email to his client before the plea, Crawford stated:

On[e] of your big issues is your visa status and overall ability to stay in this country. I have discussed this with you for months and advised that I cannot represent you nor officially advise you how your conviction in federal court will effect [sic] you.

(Mot. to Vacate, ECF 28-4). Still, Crawford warned Ajala that a conviction "would be detrimental to [him] and mo[s]t likely result in deportation." Id.

         Consistent with this, at the beginning of the plea colloquy Crawford put this advice on the record:

MR. CRAWFORD: Now the biggest thing I am concerned about or one of the things that I am concerned about is your status as far as immigration. You are very concerned about it, is that correct?
THE DEFENDANT: Correct.
MR. CRAWFORD: You understand any kind of guilty plea or any type of finding of guilt, whether it is a trial or an admission of guilt would put you in serious jeopardy from being deported from the United States, do you understand that?
DEFENDANT: Correct.
MR. CRAWFORD: You and I talked about that and I understand that you have a separate attorney I think, who is skilled as far as immigration issues are concerned and he or ...

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