Friday, December 10, 2010

Arlington Circuit Court Grants a Writ to Allow Alien Detainee to Testify

The Arlington Circuit Court issued a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum, instructing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to transfer the custody of an immigration detainee to the Arlington County Sheriff's Department, temporarily, to allow the alien to testify in an upcoming hearing in state court.

The alien is challenging a sentence entered years ago in a petit larceny conviction. The sentence was for twelve months, with ten months suspended. However, this makes the conviction one for an aggravated felony under U.S. immigration law, and thus renders the alien ineligible for cancellation of removal. The alien argues that his criminal defense lawyer did not discuss the immigration consequences of his plea bargain. If true, then this would be a clear case of ineffective assistance of counsel, as the Supreme Court recently defined it in Padilla v. Kentucky.

There are many different types of writs of habeas corpus. The one that most people are familiar with is a writ where a prisoner seeks to be released, claiming his imprisonment is in violation of law. Usually, this is sought when the prisoner believes that his conviction was the result of a constitutional violation.

A habeas corpus ad testificandum is a writ addressed to the government entity holding the person, to have that person appear before another court in order to give testimony. It is related to a writ of habeas corpus ad prosequendum, which is a writ used when a state court wants to prosecute a prisoner in federal prison.

Where the legal action is pending in a state court, a writ of habeas corpus ad testificandum or habeas corpus ad prosequendum must be issued by that state court. Federal courts have no power to supervise state court proceedings.

This ruling is significant because it is often difficult to get ICE to permit an immigration detainee to appear for a state court proceeding. That is, some aliens have experienced the problem where the alien is arrested for a state criminal action, ICE places a detainer on them, the alien makes bail, only to find himself in ICE custody. Once in ICE custody, the alien often misses his state court hearing. Having the state court issue a habeas corpus writ may permit the alien to attend the state court proceedings, while preserving ICE's custody over the alien for immigration purposes.

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