The US Supreme Court said that criminal defense lawyers are bound
by the Constitution to let immigrant defendants who are not US
citizens know when a guilty plea could lead to deportation.
Criminal defense lawyers have a constitutional obligation to
inform immigrant criminal defendants who are not US citizens of the
possibility that a guilty plea could result in deportation.
In a 7-to-2 decision announced on Wednesday, the US Supreme Court
expanded the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of
competent legal counsel to include a defendant's right to receive
accurate advice about the immigration consequences of a possible
"We now hold that counsel must inform her client whether his plea
carries a risk of deportation," wrote Justice John Paul Stevens in
the majority opinion.
In a dissent, Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas said a
lawyer's constitutional obligation relates to representing a client
in a criminal matter and should not extend to collateral issues such
as possible deportation and immigration law.
"There is no basis in text or in principle to extend the
constitutionally required advice regarding guilty pleas beyond those
matters germane to the criminal prosecution at hand," Justice Scalia
Case began with drug charges
The issue arose in the case of Jose Padilla, who had been charged
with transporting a large amount of marijuana in his tractor-
trailer in Kentucky. Padilla, a native of Honduras, has been a
lawful permanent resident of the US for more than 40 years and
served in the US armed forces during the Vietnam War.
After his arrest on the drug charge, his lawyer entered
negotiations with prosecutors for a plea agreement. The lawyer
advised Mr. Padilla that he didn't have to worry about his
immigration status since he'd been in the US for so long.
The lawyer was wrong. Under US immigration law a drug conviction
triggers mandatory deportation. At sentencing, Padilla was ordered
Padilla appealed, seeking to throw out his guilty plea. He argued
that his lawyer's failure to advise him of the deportation
consequences of his guilty plea amounted to ineffective assistance
Defendant appealed state court loss
The Supreme Court of Kentucky denied his appeal. The Kentucky
high court said the Sixth Amendment required effective advice about
the criminal charges against Padilla, not the potential immigration
consequences of a plea agreement or conviction.
In reversing the Kentucky court, the majority justices said
changes in US immigration law have dramatically raised the stakes of
a noncitizen's criminal conviction. Deportation can sometimes be the
most important part of the penalty faced by noncitizens who plead
"The importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused
of crimes has never been more important," Stevens wrote. …