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US Supreme Court entitles criminal cases defendants to immigration advice

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March 31, 2010

By a  7-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of a non-citizen immigrant, finding that his lawyer’s advice was so bad that it violated his constitutional right to a fair trial.

The high court’s ruling extends the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantee of “effective assistance of counsel” in criminal cases to immigration advice, especially in cases that involve deportation.

“The severity of deportation – the equivalent of banishment or exile – only underscores how critical it is for counsel to inform her noncitizen client that he faces a risk of deportation,” said Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the opinion for the court.

In September 2001,  Jose Padilla, a native of Honduras agreed to haul almost 1,000 pounds of marijuana, but his cargo was discovered at a truck weigh station in Kentucky and he was arrested. His lawyer advised him to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of five years in prison.

Padilla, who has lived in the United States for more than 40 years as a legal permanent resident, said he asked his lawyer at the time whether a guilty plea would affect his immigration status and was told it wouldn’t.  It turns out, Padilla’s trial lawyer was wrong, and the US Government sought his deportation.

Today, the court held that criminal defense lawyers must not only advise their non-citizen clients of the legal punishments that flow from pleading guilty, but also of the risk of deportation. In Padilla’s case, the court said, the terms of the immigration law were “succinct, clear and explicit” in defining the consequences of pleading guilty.

While seven justices ruled in Padilla’s favor, two of them — Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito — didn’t go as far as the majority on the duty of defense lawyers. They said a lawyer is required only to warn a defendant that a guilty plea could adversely affect their immigration status and that they should therefore consult an immigration lawyer.


Written by MithrasLaw

March 31, 2010 at 2:41 pm

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