Criminal defense attorneys must warn of deportation risk

The United States Supreme Court ruled earlier this year in Padilla v. Kentucky that a criminal defense lawyer must warn a client when a guilty plea to a criminal charge could subject the client to deportation.

Atlanta criminal defense attorneys noted that the Supreme Court’s opinion, authored by Justice John Paul Stevens, found that competent legal counsel on some collateral consequences of guilty pleas is guaranteed by the Constitution.

Stevens wrote for a 7-2 majority that, “It is our responsibility under the Constitution to ensure that no criminal defendant – whether a citizen or not – is left to the mercies of incompetent counsel.”

The defendant in the underlying case, Jose Padilla, has lived in the United States for over forty years, but is not a U.S. citizen. Despite his length of residence and his service in the U.S. army in the Vietnam war, Mr. Padilla is a citizen of Honduras.

Padilla was arrested in 2001 when authorities found over a thousand pounds of marijuana in his truck (he was a commercial truck driver).

Padilla pled guilty to a felony charge of drug trafficking, and received a five-year prison sentence. His lawyer had incorrectly told him that a guilty plea would not affect his immigration status. The truth was that the guilty plea practically guaranteed that Padilla would be deported.

The court decided that the bad legal advice amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

Justice Stevens wrote for the majority, “The importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important…Deportation is an integral part – indeed, sometimes the most important part – of the penalty that may be imposed on noncitizen defendants who plead guilty to specified crimes.”

Source: New York Times, “Court Requires Warning About Deportation Risk,” March 31, 2010