Supreme Court Upholds Integrity of Criminal Justice System for Immigrants

Via: The Real Cost of Prisons

Washington, D.C. (March 31, 2010) – The Supreme Court today issued a landmark decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, holding that defense lawyers must give correct advice to clients about the immigration consequences of pleading guilty. Immigrant rights groups and criminal justice advocates alike celebrated this victory.

“Even though most immigrants’ primary concern is their ability to stay in the U.S., they often plead guilty unaware that the result would be permanent exile from their families and communities,” said Michelle Fei, Co-Director of the Immigrant Defense Project. “We’re thrilled that the Supreme Court has recognized that deportation is an extreme penalty and that noncitizens have a constitutional right to legal advice about the consequences of pleading guilty.”

“Today’s decision in Padilla directs counsel to ensure that decisions to plead guilty will be intelligent and voluntary,” added Cynthia Hujar Orr, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

This case centered around Mr. Jose Padilla, a lawful permanent resident (green card holder) who has lived in the U.S. for four decades and who served in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. His criminal defense attorney had told him that pleading guilty to a drug charge would not lead to deportation. This advice was patently wrong. In his appeal, Mr. Padilla argued that his defense attorney’s misadvice about deportation consequences amounted to ineffective assistance of counsel.

IDP, along with National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Legal Aid and Defender Association, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and public defender offices from across the country, had filed a “friend of the court” citing ethical standards that the Court relied upon in its ruling. According to this brief, prevailing professional responsibilities dictate that criminal defense lawyers must advise clients about deportation. Many defender offices already train staff on immigration consequences with the help of networks of experts. IDP itself has responded to more than 12,000 inquiries from advocates and noncitizens about immigration consequences of criminal dispositions.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla acknowledges that as a result of the 1996 immigration laws, even low-level offenses – such as one-time shoplifting or marijuana possession – can lead to deportation for all types of immigrants, including green card holders. In many of these cases, immigration judges are not even allowed to consider immigrants’ length of time in the country, U.S. citizen spouses and children, or other equities.

“Unfortunately, many immigrants have few options available to fight deportation because of the harshness of our current laws,” said Benita Jain, Co-Director of IDP. “Today the Supreme Court has clearly held that providing advice on deportation to noncitizens accused of crimes has never been more important.”


The Immigrant Defense Project serves as a resource and training center on criminal-immigration issues for criminal defense lawyers, immigration advocates, and immigrants themselves.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is a professional bar association that ensures justice and due process for persons accused of crime or other misconduct

The Defending Immigrants Partnership – a collaboration between Immigrant Defense Project, Immigrant Legal Resource Center, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and National Legal Aid & Defender Association – works to ensure that indigent noncitizen defendants are provided effective criminal defense counsel to avoid or minimize the immigration consequences of their criminal dispositions