Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Supreme Court Holds Competent Criminal Advice Includes Discussion of Immigration Consequences

On March 31, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the failure to advise a criminal defendant of the immigration consequences of a plea amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel.

Padilla had been a lawful permanent resident for forty years, and served honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. On the advice of counsel, Padilla plead guilty to transporting a large amount of marijuana. Because of his guilty plea, Padilla faced deportation.

Padilla claimed that his defense counsel not only failed to advise him of the immigration consequences of the guilty plea, but that counsel assured him that since he had been a permanent resident for so long that he did not have to worry about his immigration status. Padilla insisted that if he knew about the immigration consequences of his guilty plea, he would have insisted on going to trial.

The Supreme Court of Kentucky, assuming Padilla’s claims were true, denied post conviction relief. Padilla appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which reversed the Kentucky decision.

Pursuant to the Sixth Amendment, before deciding on whether to plead guilty to a charge, a defendant is entitled to the effective assistance of competent counsel. Kentucky had argued that immigration consequences of a plea are merely collateral, and thus criminal defense counsel need not address them. The Supreme Court disagreed, noting the unique nature of deportation. While removal proceedings are a part of civil law, not criminal law, deportation is intimately related to the criminal process.

Based on this reasoning, the Supreme Court reversed the Kentucky Court’s decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Five justices joined in the Court’s opinion. Justice Alito concurred in the judgment, and was joined in his opinion by Chief Justice Roberts. Justices Scalia and Thomas dissented.

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