U.S. Supreme Court

Court to Weigh Whether Lawyer's Bad Deportation Advice Merits Plea Withdrawal


A lawyer was wrong when he advised his client that a felony marijuana plea won’t result in deportation, but was he ineffective under the Sixth Amendment?

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider that question today in a case that contends the bad advice merits withdrawal of the guilty plea. Jose Padilla—no relation to the convicted terrorism conspirator—argues his lawyer’s advice failed to satisfy the Sixth Amendment and prejudiced his case, requiring his guilty plea to be set aside, SCOTUSblog reports.

The state of Kentucky, on the other hand, argues that lawyers only have an obligation to make sure their clients understand the direct consequences of a guilty plea, not the collateral consequences such as deportation. As a result, the plea may not be withdrawn, the state says.

In an amicus brief, the United States takes a middle ground. It argues that the lawyer’s wrong advice about deportation may be a Sixth Amendment violation, but it didn’t prejudice Padilla because “the evidence of guilt was overwhelming,” SCOTUSblog says. As a result, the United States argues, the guilty plea must stand.

Padilla, a native of the Honduras, had served in Vietnam and was a legal permanent resident in the United States for 40 years before he was caught with 1,000 pounds of marijuana in his truck, the Washington Post reports in an op-ed. The newspaper sides with Padilla. The case is Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky.

SCOTUSblog highlights two other cases being argued today:

Smith v. Spisak, considering jury instructions that required a unanimous verdict on whether aggravating circumstances outweighed mitigating evidence in a capital case. Prosecutors are seeking to reinstate the murder conviction of Frank Spisak, an Ohio neo-Nazi convicted of murdering three men at Cleveland State University, the Legal Intelligencer reports.

South Carolina v. North Carolina, considering whether nonparties may intervene in a water rights lawsuit involving two states and the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction.

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