High Court Ruling Could Broadly Expand Defense Lawyer Duties


In a decision that one justice called “a major upheaval in Sixth Amendment law,” the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday said lawyers have a constitutional obligation to advise clients of the collateral deportation consequences of a guilty plea in a criminal case, reports the National Law Journal. “It is our responsibility under the Constitution to ensure that no criminal defendant — whether a citizen or not — is left to the mercies of incompetent counsel,” wrote Justice John Paul Stevens for the 7-2 majority.

Although the ruling in Padilla vs. Kentucky is based on the seriousness of deportation as, in effect, a second penalty that results from a guilty plea, the impact of the decision could in future cases strengthen the duty of lawyers to advise clients about serious collateral consequences of guilty pleas in other contexts, such as sex offender status. In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said the defense bar will likely try to create “ever-expanding categories of plea-invalidating misadvice.” Stephen Kinnaird, a Washgton, D.C. lawyer who represented the defendant in the case said, “This is really a historic decision.” For immigrants and for lawyers, he added, “this is a big deal.” Criminal defense lawyers, he said, “will have to at least understand the basic landscape of immigration law. I expect to see the bar step up to this task.” Benita Jain, of the Immigrant Defense Project said, “This is one of the biggest ineffective assistance of counsel rulings in years.”

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