Immigrants' Trial Advice Heads to High Court

     (CN) - The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear arguments by a Mexican immigrant who wants to take back the guilty plea that puts her at risk of deportation.
     On the advice of counsel, Roselva Chaidez pleaded guilty in 2003 to mail fraud connected to a staged accident insurance scheme. She was sentenced to four years of probation.
     Chaidez applied for citizenship, but the government denied her application and began removal proceedings in 2009.
     Claiming that she would not have pled guilty if her attorney had emphasized the immigration consequences of such a plea, Chaidez tried to overturn her conviction on the basis of ineffective counsel.
     A federal judge vacated the conviction in light of the Supreme Court's recent resolution of Padilla v. Kentucky. In Padilla, the justices concluded that a lawyer who advised a Honduran immigrant to plead guilty to drug-distribution charges failed to provide him with an adequate defense in violation of the Sixth Amendment.
     "We agree with Padilla that constitutionally competent counsel would have advised him that his conviction for drug distribution made him subject to automatic deportation," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court. "The importance of accurate legal advice for non-citizens accused of crimes has never been more important."
     On that basis, the judge hearing Chaidez's case found that Padilla did not announce a new rule under the framework set forth in Teague v. Lane. But the 7th Circuit concluded otherwise in August 2011.
     "Under Teague, a constitutional rule of criminal procedure applies to all cases on direct and collateral review if it is not a new rule, but rather an old rule applied to new facts," Judge Joel Flaum wrote for a majority of the federal appeals court. "A new rule applies only to cases that still are on direct review, unless one of two exceptions applies. In particular, a new rule applies retroactively on collateral review if (1) it is substantive or (2) it is a '"watershed rul[e] of criminal procedure" implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.'"
     "The parties agree that if Padilla announced a new rule neither exception to non-retroactivity applies," Flaum added. Therefore, whether Padilla announced a new constitutional rule of criminal procedure is the sole issue before us."
     The majority decision noted that the courts are split on the issue, with the 3rd Circuit finding that Padilla did not announce the new rule.