Supreme Court Ruling Changing the Role of Criminal Defense Attorneys

Supreme Court Ruling Changing the Role of Criminal Defense Attorneys

Attorneys Must Advise Clients How Guilty Pleas Will Impact Other Legal Issues

Originally from Honduras, Jose Padilla had been living as a legal citizen in the United States for decades when he was arrested for marijuana trafficking. His attorney at the time told him that if he pled guilty in exchange for a dropped charge, he would not have to worry about his immigration status. This was incorrect. After sentencing, Padilla brought a claim to erase the conviction, as his attorney had provided him with false information and violated his Sixth Amendment rights. Padilla claimed he would have gone to trial if he had known he would be deported. The case went to the Supreme Court, which held that an attorney has an obligation to advise clients on how a guilty plea will affect a person’s immigration status.

This is a change from previous law in some states. In fact, just two days before the Supreme Court opinion, a Maryland Court of Appeals opinion held the exact opposite – that an attorney had no obligation to advise a criminal defendant about his or her immigration status as it related to a drug conviction, since it was a collateral issue. The Padilla case made that a short-lived law.

Last February, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals held that Padilla was not retroactive, meaning that those convicted pre- Padilla cannot bring a claim to have their own convictions vacated. However, moving forward criminal defense attorneys must advise clients on how their immigration status will be affected by a conviction or guilty plea.

Other Ramifications

Some courts are applying the Padilla legal standard to issues besides criminal law and sentencing. For example, in Alaska an appeals court granted post-conviction relief when an attorney incorrectly told a client that a plea of no-contest (a guilty plea) would not be used against him in a related civil suit.

Other states have used Padilla to allow post-conviction relief for legal matters ranging from employment to child custody and housing. To better help criminal defense attorneys comply with emerging laws, the American Bar Association recently created a task force to look at Padilla case and its ramifications for criminal defense attorneys.

Speak to an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you have been charged with a crime, the Padilla opinion highlights the need to find an experienced criminal defense attorney who will look out for your best interests and protect your Constitutional rights.

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