Immigration Consequences of Guilty Pleas in New Jersey State and Federal Criminal and Municipal Court Cases

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

On October 30, 2012, in a case which will have significant consequences in the state and federal courts of New Jersey, the United States Supreme Court heard argument to settle a dispute among the lower courts regarding whether to give non-citizens the benefit of a ruling that requires their lawyers to advise them on the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. At issue in the new case of Chaidez v. United States (11-820) is the potential retroactivity of the Court’s 2010 ruling in Padilla v. Kentucky.

In the Padilla decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel includes a right for a non-citizen living in the U.S. to be advised by a lawyer of the immigration law consequences of pleading guilty to a crime that could lead to deportation. The majority noted that, under recent dramatic changes in immigration law, deportation is virtually automatic after one is convicted of an “aggravated felony.”

Relying on the constitutional standard that a lawyer’s professional advice to clients must satisfy a minimum level of performance, the Court in Padilla found that prevailing standards dictate that a lawyer for a non-citizen faced with a criminal charge must advise that individual of the risk of being deported if a plea of guilty is entered. If the immigration law outlook is not clear, the Court said, the lawyer at least must tell the client that there could be adverse immigration consequences.

The decision in this case will have a significant impact in New Jersey, where, in State v.Gaitan, the New Jersey Supreme Court declined to apply Padilla retroactively.

The sequel case arose before the Padilla decision was issued, and the United States Court of Appeal for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the non-citizen involved, Roselva Chaidez, could not take advantage of that precedent because it did not apply retroactively. Padilla was decided on March 31, 2010, and the Seventh Circuit said that it established a new rule of criminal law and thus, under Supreme Court precedent, it could not apply to any case in which a guilty plea had been entered prior to that March 2010 date.

Chaidez, a native of Mexico, came to the U.S. in the 1970s, and became a lawful permanent resident in 1977. She has three children and three grandchildren, all of whom are U.S. citizens. She had been involved in an insurance fraud scheme, in which others had persuaded her to claim falsely that she had been a passenger in a car involved in a collision; she had received $1,200 for her role. In 2003, she was charged with two counts of mail fraud for two separate billings after the underlying dispute was settled out of court.

Her lawyer did not advise her about the risk of deportation if she pleaded guilty, and did not seek to negotiate a plea deal for her. She pleaded guilty. It is undisputed that, had she known of the deportation prospect, she would not have entered a guilty plea. She was sentenced to four years of probation and ordered to pay the insurance company a total of $22,500. Her conviction became final in 2004. Three years later, federal officials became aware of her conviction, and moved to deport her. She challenged that in federal court, claiming that her lawyer had failed to advise her fully. That was the claim the Seventh Circuit rejected. Other federal courts, however, disagree on the issue of retroactivity. The United States Supreme Court is likely to decide this matter by June of 2013.

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