A Jamaican citizen who was living in the Lowcountry when he was arrested on a drug charge recently had his conviction reversed because his defense attorney didn't tell him his guilty plea would lead to deportation.
The S.C. Supreme Court found that a defense attorney's representation of Gregg Taylor was deficient because the lawyer failed to tell Taylor that deportation was mandatory on the drug charge, according to a Feb. 28 ruling.
Taylor had been living in Berkeley County with his wife and two kids, who are American citizens, for several years at the time of his arrest in 2013. He was sentenced to probation after he pleaded guilty to possession of more than one ounce of marijuana. Immigration authorities arrested Taylor when he reported to his probation officer, and he was ultimately deported to Jamaica.
Taylor later filed for post-conviction relief, saying in the appeals process that he would have insisted on going to trial if he had known he would face deportation. He said his defense attorney, who was not named in the Supreme Court opinion, assured him he would walk out of court a "free man in the US."
Mark Devine, a Charleston attorney who represented Taylor in immigration proceedings and the appeals process, said the court's decision sends a message to defense attorneys that they must accurately advise clients of the likelihood of deportation.
"It really helps foreign nationals for their protection here ... in the court system," Devine said. "And defense attorneys better do their job properly."
Taylor remains in Jamaica, according to Devine, who has not been able to contact the family since Taylor's conviction was reversed.
Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said Thursday that her office would need to review Taylor's file before deciding what might be next for the criminal case.
The Supreme Court's ruling said it wasn't clear if Taylor's defense attorney understood his duty to advise his client of the deportation consequences of his plea. The lawyer testified during a post-conviction relief hearing that immigration laws "really don't have no impact if it's not going to help me in my defense of my client," according to the ruling. He said he viewed the prospect of deportation as a "collateral issue."
The Supreme Court's decision comes after Taylor's filing for post-conviction relief was denied.