In an important decision regarding immigrant criminal defendants, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion, Chaidez 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 deportation.
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 wrongdoing.
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
(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 266-0605.)