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Supreme Court: Lawyers must advise immigrants of deportation threat

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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 deported.

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 of counsel.

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 guilty.

“The importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important,” Stevens wrote.

“There will… undoubtedly be situations in which the deportation consequences of a particular plea are unclear or uncertain,” Stevens wrote. “The duty of the private practitioner in such cases is more limited. When the law is not succinct and straightforward…, a criminal defense attorney need do no more than advise a noncitizen client that pending criminal charges may carry a risk of adverse immigration consequences.”

He added, “But when the deportation consequence is truly clear, as it was in this case, the duty to give correct advice is equally clear.”

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