In an important decision
regarding immigrant criminal defendants, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion,
v. U.S., late
last month refusing to block the deportation of a woman from Illinois, as well
as thousands of other immigrants, who pleaded guilty to serious crimes but were
never warned by their attorneys that such a plea deal could target them for
The current law says that those
immigrants and lawful residents who have an “aggravated felony” on their record
will be deported. The term “aggravated felony” can be used to describe a host
of state and federal offenses. The mandatory nature of the law highlights the
stiff penalties suffered by noncitizens who plead guilty to criminal
Immigration attorneys have argued
that tens of thousands of immigrants plead guilty to crimes each year that
could then lead them to be deported, something many do not realize when the
agree to the plea deal. In an attempt to remedy this problem, the Supreme Court
ruled a few years ago that attorneys had a duty to warn noncitizens of the
chance that a guilty plea could lead to deportation. The recent case was meant
to clarify that the earlier ruling would not apply retroactively to those immigrants
who pleaded guilty to criminal offenses prior to 2010.
The case at issue involved
Roselva Chaidez, an Illinois woman originally from Mexico. She lived in Chicago
for decades and had been a legal permanent resident since 1977. She also had
several children and grandchildren living in the area. She admitted back in
1998 to receiving $1,2000 from an insurance company for a fraudulent auto
accident claim scheme run by her son and others.
Chaidez pleaded guilty to two
counts of mail fraud, was sentenced to probation and required to repay more
than $20,000 (the amount she and her son collectively profited). Chaidez
followed the rules and completed her probation and paid restitution by 2004.
A few years later, Chaidez
applied to become a naturalized citizen but was denied because she had been
convicted of a crime. It was then that she learned that pleading guilty to mail
fraud for more than $10,000 meant that she was subject to deportation. She
filed a petition asking that her convicted be overturned due to her attorney’s
failure to warn her of the consequences of her guilty plea.
A district court judge in Chicago
ruled in favor of Chaidez and set aside her conviction. The case then moved on
to the 7th Circuit which disagreed with the lower court and said
Chaidez was not able to take advantage of a recent Supreme Court case, Padilla v. Kentucky, to
challenge her conviction. The Supreme Court agreed with the 7th
Circuit and refused to retroactively apply its earlier decision in Padilla v. Kentucky to help those
who plead guilty without proper counsel prior to the 2010 ruling. Justice
Kagan, who wrote for the majority, said that the 2010 ruling amounted to a
major legal change and that the Court does not apply such changes retroactively
to old cases.
To read the full opinion, click here.
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