Padilla v. Kentucky: Noncitizens Entering Guilty Pleas + Bad Legal Advice = DEPORTATION!

Interesting case.  Defense attorneys representing aliens charged with crimes have a constitutional obligation to tell the client that a guilty plea carries a risk of deportation.

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/09pdf/08-651.pdf

Mr. Padilla, a lawful permanent resident of the United States for over 40 years, faced deportation after pleading guilty to drug distribution charges in Kentucky.  He claimed his attorney not only failed to advise him of this consequence before he entered the plea, and also told Padilla not to worry about deportation since he had lived in this country so long.  Padilla says he would have avoided pleading guilty and gone to trial had he not received bad advice from his attorney.

In deciding the issue, the U.S. Supremes applied the two-part test from Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668.  The test analyzes whether (1) counsel’s legal advice fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and (2) there exists a reasonable probablity that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different.

Here, Padilla proved his defense attorney gave misleading advice.  The Supremes reasoned that defense attorneys MUST inform a client whether his plea carries risk of deportation.  Changes to immigration law have dramatically raised the stakes of a noncitizen’s criminal conviction.  They further reasoned that, recently, immigration reforms have expanded the class of deportable offenses and limited judges’ authority to alleviate deportation’s harsh consequences.  The importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens has never been more important.

My opinion?  Good decision.  Mr. Padilla was rightfully granted relief for his attorney’s bad legal advice.  Under the law, immigrants can be deported if they are convicted of crimes which expose them to serving a year or more jail time.  Practically speaking, this applies to all gross misdemeanors and felonies.  Simple misdemeanors are exempt because their exposure is typically only 90 days in jail.

This opinion warns defense attorneys to correctly advise immigrant clients of the consequences of entering guilty pleas.