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Judicial Watch • Supreme Court Blocks Drug Dealer’s Deportation

Supreme Court Blocks Drug Dealer’s Deportation

Supreme Court Blocks Drug Dealer’s Deportation

APRIL 01, 2010


A Honduran man’s Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel was violated because he was not advised that a guilty plea to drug charges would result in deportation, according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued this week.

The Central American man (Jose Padilla) is a legal resident who in 2002 pleaded guilty to transporting drugs, a deportable crime, in Kentucky. When deportation proceedings were initiated, Padilla claimed he never would have pleaded guilty if he knew it would get him kicked out of the U.S.

The Honduran drug runner asserted that he received flawed legal advice from his criminal attorney and asked to withdraw his guilty plea. The case made its way through the state system until the Kentucky Supreme Court denied the request, ruling that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of effective counsel does not protect a defendant from bad advice about deportation.

In a 7-2 decision issued this week, the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, saying that the “steady expansion of deportable offenses” makes “the importance of accurate legal advice for noncitizens accused of crimes” more important than ever. Padilla’s criminal defense attorney was “constitutionally deficient,” the court determined.

“It is our responsibility under the Constitution to ensure that no criminal defendant — whether a citizen or not — is left to the mercies of incompetent counsel,” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority. “Our long-standing Sixth Amendment precedents, the seriousness of deportation as a consequence of a criminal plea, and the … impact of deportation on families … demand no less.”

The High Court is considering a similar case involving a Mexican man in Texas who pleaded guilty to a pair of drug offenses. The government claims the second conviction constitutes an “aggravated felony” (a deportable crime) under immigration law and the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out that the Mexican man is a “recidivist” when the court heard the case this week.

On the other hand, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it seemed “absurd” to deport the Mexican convict “because of one marijuana cigarette and one Xan-something pill.” It appeared to be her dismissive way of referring to the anxiety drug (Xanax) that the Mexican man illegally possessed.



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