The Supreme Court decided today by a 5-4 vote that José Padilla’s lawyer could and should have advised him regarding the immigration consequences of pleading guilty. This José Padilla was not born in the United States. He pled guilty to a drug crime but claimed his lawyer told him that the plea would not affect his permanent residency. (Ha!) Justice Stevens lets you know how this is going to turn out in his opening lines:
Petitioner Jose Padilla, a native of Honduras, has been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for more than 40 years. Padilla served this Nation with honor as a member of the U. S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War.OK, got it, he wins. (J.P.S., by the way, served in the Pacific from the time he was 22 to the time he was 25. It freaks out the law students when I tell them, “When Stevens was your age, he was fighting the Japanese.” I think they have trouble comprehending that anyone who fought in WWII is still alive, much less holding down a job, much less writing opinions.)
Skipping ahead, we find that four Justices of the Supreme Court do not believe that a defendant’s counsel should try to explain the immigration consequences of pleading guilty because it’s too hard. Alito and Roberts say in their concurrence that defense lawyers would be better off saying nothing more than that adverse immigration consequences may result: “Because many criminal defense attorneys have little understanding of immigration law, it should follow that a criminal defense attorney who refrains from providing immigration advice does not violate prevailing professional norms.” And Scalia and Thomas go even further and say that anything other than the sentence is beside the point:
In the best of all possible worlds, criminal defendants contemplating a guilty plea ought to be advised of all serious collateral consequences of conviction, and surely ought not to be misadvised. The Constitution, however, is not an all-purpose tool for judicial construction of a perfect world ... .How this was not 9-0 entirely escapes me. How is banishment not a criminal penalty? Wasn’t exile to Siberia a favored punishment of the czars or am I misremembering something? Is this supposedly not punishment because it’s specified in Title 8 rather than Title 18? The more offensive part of this is that the Justices never disclaim expertise over any corner of the law comprised by their vast general jurisdiction. They have no trouble grasping the finer points of criminal law and immigration law as well as patent law, military law, antitrust, bankruptcy, labor, tax, admiralty, whatever. But that’s Alito, Scalia, Roberts, and Thomas—not you.