Guilty Plea Means Deportation, Says Supreme Court

Posted February 25, 2013 in Crime Immigration by

Torso of a businesswoman in handcuffs

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Feb. 20 held that one of its 2010 rulings – that under the Sixth Amendment, criminal defense attorneys must warn their clients that guilty pleas can result in deportation – does not apply retroactively.

In Chaidez v. United States, the Court said Padilla v. Kentucky, the 2010 case, was not retroactive because it created a new rule about warning defendants, as opposed to simply applying existing rules.


Sorry, Says Court: Play It Forward

Roselva Chaidez is a Mexican woman who had been in the United States as a legal permanent resident since the 1970s. But after she falsely claimed to have been involved in a car accident, she was accused of insurance fraud in 2003 and pleaded guilty, receiving four years of probation.

When Chaivez applied for citizenship six years later, the conviction got her a deportation order. The Padilla case was decided while she was fighting her deportation. The federal judge in Chaivez’s case interpreted the opinion to mean her fraud conviction should be overturned, since her attorney hadn’t warned her that her guilty plea could lead to possibly being deported.

That decision was appealed, and the federal appeals court decided in the government’s favor, saying that at the time of her conviction, Chaivez’ attorney hadn’t been required to tell her she might be deported due to her guilty plea. By the time providing the information had become mandatory, Chaivez had already been convicted.

The Supreme Court agreed, saying the requirement couldn’t be applied retroactively to cases that had already been decided. According to the Court, Chaivez is, in effect, out of luck. Her deportation can move forward.

The case solidifies the law concerning whether new rules announced by the Court can be applied retroactively. A handful of lower courts had misinterpreted the Court’s retroactivity decisions, Kent Scheidegger, the legal director for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation and an author with the Crime & Consequences blog, tells


Lawyers Listen Up

But the case is also important because it highlights the issue of what lawyers must tell their clients who are criminal defendants. 

Kent Scheidegger headshot

Kent Scheidegger

“The Supreme Court has gotten more interested in the effectiveness of lawyers at plea bargaining in recent years, as the vast majority of criminal cases are resolved that way now,” adds Scheidegger. In general, he explains, “lawyers should advise their clients of any substantial collateral consequences of conviction.”

Justice Kagan, writing for the majority, even indicated that the results of the Padilla case should not be limited to deportation dangers, writes Douglas Berman on the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

In the Chaivez opinion, Kagan wrote that Padilla held “that the failure to advise about a non-criminal consequence could violate the Sixth Amendment . . . ,” according to Berman. There are certainly any number of “non-criminal consequences” that can stem from a conviction.

The Padilla case dealt specifically with the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee to criminal defendants of effective assistance of counsel. And courts are still struggling with the limits of that guarantee.

“Whether the Sixth Amendment extends to collateral consequences beyond deportation has not yet been resolved,” Scheidegger adds. “A lawyer’s ethical duty is not limited to the Sixth Amendment minimum.”


Immigration Consequences

Another important aspect of the opinion deals with illegal immigrants. Although the Chaidez case doesn’t change the Padilla decision or make any new immigration law, it makes it very clear that the obligation of a defense attorney to explain the potential negative consequences of a guilty plea doesn’t apply to cases finalized before March 2010, says Kevin Johnson on the SCOTUS Blog

Supreme Court Report logo“The Obama administration has made it a priority to remove ‘criminal aliens’ from the United States and has based many removal actions on convictions more than a few years old,” points out Johnson. “Ultimately, thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lawful permanent residents facing removal are likely to be affected by Chaidez and likely to suffer significant hardships if removed from the United States.” 

“Chaidez, for example, has lived in the United States for four decades and has three children and two grandchildren who are U.S. citizens,” he says. “Now facing removal, she faces the possibility of being stripped from the only community and family she really has ever known.”

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