The U.S. Supreme Court held last week in a 7-2 decision that defense counsel must inform a non-citizen client whether his/her plea carries a risk of deportation, a failure to do so violates the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantee of the right to counsel in criminal cases.
In Padilla v. Kentucky, the criminal defense attorney representing Mr. Padilla told him that he did not have to worry about the consequences of his guilty plea on his immigration status because he had been in the U.S. for so long. This legal advice was incorrect. After legally living in the U.S. for over 40 years, Mr. Padilla faces deportation as a result of his guilty plea. Whether Mr. Padilla is entitled to relief from deportation depends on whether he was prejudiced, a matter to be addressed by the Kentucky court.
In arriving at this decision, the Court noted “immigration law can be complex, and in it is a legal specialty of its own. Some members of the bar who represent clients facing criminal charges may not be well versed in it.” In his concurrent opinion Judge Alito indicated “the professional organizations and guidebooks on which the Court so heavily relies are right to say that nothing is ever simple with immigration law”.