Federal Immigration Consequences Of A Criminal Conviction
Background: Padilla V. Kentucky
In Padilla v. Kentucky, the petitioner was a lawful permanent resident immigrant who faced deportation after pleading guilty in a Kentucky court to the transportation of a large amount of marijuana in his tractor-trailer. In a post-conviction proceeding, Mr. Padilla claimed that his counsel not only failed to advise him of this consequence prior to his entering the plea, but also told him that he “did not have to worry about immigration status since he had been in the country so long.” Mr. Padilla stated that he relied on his counsel’s erroneous advice when he pleaded guilty to the drug charges that made his deportation virtually mandatory.
The Kentucky Supreme Court’s Ruling
The Kentucky Supreme Court denied Mr. Padilla post-conviction relief based on a holding that the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of effective assistance of counsel does not protect a criminal defendant from erroneous advice about deportation because it is merely a “collateral” consequence of his criminal conviction.
The United States Supreme Court’s Decision
The United States Supreme Court disagreed with the Kentucky Supreme Court. It agreed with Mr. Padilla that “constitutionally competent counsel would have advised him that his conviction for drug distribution made him subject to automatic deportation.”
The court observed that “[t]he landscape of federal immigration law has changed dramatically over the last 90 years.” The court further stated: While once there was only a narrow class of deportable offenses and judges wielded broad discretionary authority to prevent deportation, immigration reforms over time have expanded the class of deportable offenses and limited the authority of judges to alleviate the harsh consequences of deportation. The “drastic measure” of deportation or removal … is now virtually inevitable for a vast number of noncitizens convicted of crimes. Based on these changes, the court concluded that “accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important” and that “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.”
In Mr. Padilla’s case, the court found that the removal consequences for his conviction were clear and that he had sufficiently alleged constitutional deficiency to satisfy the first prong of the Strickland test — that his representation had fallen below an “objective standard of reasonableness.”
The Supreme Court’s Holding In Padilla
The Sixth Amendment requires immigration advice. The court held that, for Sixth Amendment purposes, defense counsel must inform a noncitizen client whether his or her plea carries a risk of deportation.
The court stated: “Our long-standing Sixth Amendment precedents, the seriousness of deportation as a consequence of a criminal plea, and the concomitant impact of deportation on families living lawfully in this country demand no less.”
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