Landmark Decision: SCOTUS Upholds Due Process for Immigrants

The United States Supreme Court restored sixth amendment due process rights to immigrants facing deportation in a landmark ruling today. In Padilla vs. Kentucky, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that all immigrants have the right to effective counsel, and specifically that counsels must inform clients whether their guilty pleas carry a risk of deportation. This ensures that a decision to plead guilty is more well-informed, but it may have a much bigger impact of putting a dent in ICE removal goals for the year.

Immigration Professor blog reports that given a huge majority of criminal convictions are a result of plea bargains, a lot of deportable “criminal aliens” may have a basis for challenging decisions rendered in their cases, and hence slowing down removal proceedings. Immigrants often plead guilty to lesser charges not realizing the full extent of plea bargain can also mean deportation.

This Supreme Court decision extends the sixth amendment right to counsel to immigrants facing criminal charges. Justice John Stevens writes in the majority opinion that “the severity of deportation –- the equivalent of banishment or exile — only underscores how critical it is for counsel to inform her noncitizen client that he faces a risk of deportation.” And that no defendant, regardless of citizenship, should be left to the mercy of an incompetent counsel. Now if only incompetent counsels could face further sanctions. Alas this is not part of the Supreme Court decision.

Whether this case can be applied retroactively is another issue altogether, though it is doubtful that the Supreme Court decision can affect those already deported after entering into plea bargains. While this decision might not enough to reverse the wrongful conviction of people like Julio Maldonado or those deported over two joints, it is certainly landmark in terms of restoring some long overdue immigrant rights.

Photo Credit: laurapadgett

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