Does Padilla v. Kentucky Apply Retroactively? Supreme Court to Decide Next Term
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to revisit its decision in Padilla v. Kentucky to determine if its ruling should be applied retroactively. The landmark ruling tackled the controversial link between deportation and criminal offenses, ultimately concluding that legal counsel must inform a client whether his plea carries a risk of deportation. The failure to do so amounts to ineffective assistance of counsel and can be used to overturn a conviction.
Since Padilla was decided in 2010, lower courts have disagreed over whether the decision should be applied retroactively to benefit defendants whose cases concluded before the Supreme Court ruled. To settle the rift, the Court has agreed to hear the case of Chaidez v. United States this fall.
To understand what’s at stake, it is important to understand the Supreme Court’s ruling in Padilla as well as how the issue of retroactivity will be decided.
The Facts of the Case
Jose Padilla, a lawful permanent resident of the United States for over 40 years, faced deportation after pleading guilty to drug-distribution charges in Kentucky. In post-conviction proceedings, he alleged that his attorney not only failed to advise him of this consequence before he entered the plea, but also told him “he did not have to worry about immigration status since he had been in the country so long.’”
Padilla claimed that he would have gone to trial had he not received this incorrect advice.
The Kentucky Supreme Court denied Padilla post-conviction relief on the ground that the Sixth Amendment’s effective-assistance-of-counsel guarantee does not protect defendants from erroneous deportation advice because deportation is merely a “collateral” consequence of a conviction.
The Supreme Court’s Decision
The Supreme Court ultimately concluded that the Sixth Amendment does require attorneys to advise their clients of the possible deportation consequences of a guilty plea and the failure to do can violate the Sixth Amendment. In an opinion authored by Justice Stevens, the Court emphasized that deportation is an integral part of the penalty that may be imposed on noncitizen defendants who plead guilty to specified crimes.
As the Court noted, “Changes to immigration law have dramatically raised the stakes of a noncitizen’s criminal conviction. While once there was only a narrow class of deportable offenses and judges wielded broad discretionary authority to prevent deportation, immigration reforms have expanded the class of deportable offenses and limited judges’ authority to alleviate deportation’s harsh consequences. Because the drastic measure of deportation or removal is now virtually inevitable for a vast number of noncitizens convicted of crimes, the importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important.”
In overturning the Supreme Court of Kentucky, the Court also noted that it has never distinguished between direct and collateral consequences in defining the scope of constitutionally “reasonable professional assistance,” as required under Strickland v. Washington. As for Padilla’s case, the Court stated: “This is not a hard case in which to find deficiency: The consequences of Padilla’s plea could easily be determined from reading the removal statute, his deportation was presumptively mandatory, and his counsel’s advice was incorrect.”
The Issue of Retroactivity
The issue of whether criminal defendants should be given the benefit of rules of criminal procedure established after their trials is clearly an important issue. Unfortunately, the retroactivity standard is often difficult to apply.
In Teague v. Lane, the Supreme Court established a retroactivity test for cases like Chaidez v. United States. Under the two-step analysis, the court must determine if the rule in question is new, or simply an extension of existing precedent. If the rule is not new, then the court must apply the rule to the case. If the rule is new, the court must decide whether the new rule falls within one of several narrow exceptions
Following the Court’s decision in Padilla, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th and 10th Circuits ruled it should not be applied retroactively. However, the 3rd Circuit and the highest court in Massachusetts have ruled in favor of retroactivity. This divide is a clear example of when the Supreme Court must step in and address the issue. Much like its decision in Padilla, the Court’s decision will again impact a significant number of immigrants in this country.
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