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Monday, May 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Mexican Facing Removal Can’t Nix Guilty Plea

(CN) - The U.S. Supreme Court sided against a Mexican national who took a lawyer's advice to plead guilty, unaware that it would jeopardize her immigration status.

Roselva Chaidez pleaded guilty in 2003 to mail fraud connected to a staged accident insurance scheme. She was sentenced to four years of probation.

After Chaidez applied for citizenship, the government denied her application based on her felony conviction and began removal proceedings in 2009.

Chaidez insisted that she would not have pleaded guilty if her attorney had emphasized the immigration consequences of such a plea - a Sixth Amendment violation that the Supreme Court had just clarified in the 2010 decision Padilla v. Kentucky.

Agreeing that Chaidez had shown she was prejudiced by ineffective counsel, U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall vacated Chaidez's conviction. She said Padilla could be applied retroactively because it did not announce a new rule under the framework set forth in Teague v. Lane.

After a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit concluded otherwise in August 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Chaidez's case to resolve a split among federal and state courts. It affirmed Wednesday

"When all we do is apply a general standard to the kind of factual circumstances it was meant to address, we will rarely state a new rule for Teague purposes," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the majority.

"Courts often need to, and do, break new ground; it is the very premise of Teague that a decision can be right and also be novel," she added. "All we say here is that Padilla's holding that the failure to advise about a non-criminal consequence could violate the Sixth Amendment would not have been - in fact, was not - 'apparent to all reasonable jurists' prior to our decision. Padilla thus announced a 'new rule.'"

Padilla came too late to help Chaidez, who had already served her sentence by 2010.

"Three federal circuits (and a handful of state courts) held before Padilla that misstatements about deportation could support an ineffective assistance claim," Kagan wrote. "But those decisions reasoned only that a lawyer may not affirmatively misrepresent his expertise or otherwise actively mislead his client on any important matter, however related to a criminal prosecution. They co-existed happily with precedent, from the same jurisdictions (and almost all others), holding that deportation is not 'so unique as to warrant an exception to the general rule that a defendant need not be advised of the [collateral] consequences of a guilty plea,'" Justice Kagan wrote, citing United States v. Campbell.

"So at most, Chaidez has shown that a minority of courts recognized a separate rule for material representations, regardless whether they concerned deportation or another collateral matter. That limited rule does not apply in Chaidez's case. And because it lived in harmony with the exclusion of claims like hers from the Sixth Amendment, it does not establish what she needs to-that all reasonable judges, prior to Padilla, thought they were living in a Padilla-like world."

"This court announced a new rule in Padilla. Under Teague, defendants whose convictions became final prior to Padilla therefore cannot benefit from its holding."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued in dissent that Padilla simply used a new setting to apply the existing rule from Strickland v. Washington - a 1984 decision that established a two-prong test for ineffective assistance claims.

"In Strickland, we did not provide a comprehensive definition of deficient performance, and instead held that '[t]he proper measure of attorney performance remains simply reasonableness under prevailing professional norms," Sotomayor wrote, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "Strickland's reasonableness prong therefore takes its content from the standards by which lawyers judge their professional obligations, and those standards are subject to change. That is why, despite the many different settings in which it has been applied, we have never found that an application of Strickland resulted in a new rule."

She added: "Our application of Strickland in Padilla followed naturally from earlier observations about changes in immigration law and the accompanying evolution of professional norms. When we decided St. Cyr and Padilla, nothing about Strickland's substance or applicability had changed. The only difference from prior law was that the underlying professional norms had changed such that counsel's failure to give this advice now amounted to constitutionally deficient performance. Both before Padilla and after, counsel was obligated to follow the relevant professional norms. It was only because those norms reflected changes in immigration law that Padilla reached the result it did, not because the Sixth Amendment right had changed at all."

"Faithfully applying the Teague rule depends on an examination of this court's reasoning and an objective assessment of the precedent at issue. In Padilla, we did nothing more than apply Strickland," Justice Sotomayor concluded. "By holding to the contrary, today's decision deprives defendants of the fundamental protection of Strickland, which requires that lawyers comply with professional norms with respect to any advice they provide to clients."

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