The Supreme Court Once Again Wrestles with Immigration Consequences of Guilty Pleas in Chaidez v. U.S.
Written by: SWadhia
By Kristin Macleod-Ball
This month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Chaidez v. U.S., a case which will determine whether Padilla v. Kentucky applies retroactively. In Padilla, the Court held that criminal defense attorneys’ failure to advise clients that pleading guilty may make them removable constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. The Court’s decision in Chaidez will have serious effects on the lives of noncitizens and their families. As AILA’s amicus brief in the case explained, unless Padilla applies to those whose criminal cases pre-dated the decision, some longtime U.S. residents, and their U.S. citizen children, will face immigration consequences that far outweigh the severity of their crimes.
The petitioner in the case, Roselva Chaidez (who is represented by the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic, the National Immigrant Justice Center and several private attorneys), had been a lawful permanent resident for more than 25 years when she pled guilty in federal court to an aggravated felony. Her attorney failed to notify her that her conviction would render her removable. Five years later, when Ms. Chaidez applied for citizenship, she admitted to her criminal record in an interview. As a result, the government initiated removal proceedings against her. Ms. Chaidez then sought to vacate her conviction, and while her claim was pending, the Supreme Court decided Padilla. The district court applied Padilla retroactively to Ms. Chaidez’s case, but on appeal, the Seventh Circuit reversed. She then sought Supreme Court review of that decision.
The arguments before the Supreme Court delved into the boundaries of ineffective assistance of counsel case law in the criminal context and the retroactivity of new rules of criminal procedure. More broadly, the arguments indicated that the Court is grappling with whether they view providing advice about the immigration consequences of a conviction as similar to or wholly unique from the rest of a criminal defense attorney’s duties.
In determining whether Ms. Chaidez’s claims would be successful, the Court looked to its 1989 decision Teague v. Lane. Teague holds that new rules of criminal procedure do not apply retroactively in collateral review of criminal convictions (often, brought through a habeas corpus petition or writ of coram nobis). However, if the Court is only applying existing rules to a new set of facts, the decision may apply retroactively. Ms. Chaidez argued that Padilla simply applied the existing standards for ineffective assistance of counsel in criminal cases, set forth in Strickland v. Washington. The United States responded that Padilla created a new rule – that the Sixth Amendment could require criminal defense attorneys to provide advice about matters outside the control of criminal courts.
Much of the questioning at the Court illustrated the parties’ divergent views on whether Strickland commanded the result in Padilla or whether, given the number of lower courts that had reached the opposite conclusion prior to Padilla, it was a new rule. Several Justices, including Justice Kennedy, pressed Ms. Chaidez’s attorney to explain why Padilla’s unique expansion of ineffective assistance doctrine was not a “new” rule and whether he could envision any expansion of ineffective assistance of counsel rules that would be new under his analysis. Later in the argument, the Justices, especially Sotomayor and Breyer, pushed the attorney for the United States to address the importance of professional standards in place prior to Padilla that had required criminal defense attorneys to inform their clients of immigration consequences of convictions. Throughout, there was a fundamental disagreement about the extent to which information about the immigration consequences of a conviction are intertwined with other advice that defense attorneys provide in the course of plea bargaining.
Ms. Chaidez also offered an alternative argument: that the Teague retroactivity framework is not applicable because, unlike the Petitioner in Teague, she is pursuing her first collateral challenge to a federal, not state, conviction. She argued that because Supreme Court case law directs federal defendants to pursue ineffective assistance of counsel claims on collateral review (as opposed to direct review), it does not follow that they should benefit from “new rules” only if they did the opposite and made their challenge on direct review. While Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Ginsburg picked up on some of Ms. Chaidez’s arguments against the applicability of Teague, Justices Kagan and Alito focused on the uncertainty that the criminal court system would experience if the finality of its convictions could be challenged under a non-Teague system – almost a direct counterpoint to the AILA amicus brief argument that, without retroactivity, noncitizens with convictions impacted by ineffective assistance of counsel may face a lifetime fearing imminent deportation.
Though the argument dealt with legal issues and precedents that rarely arise directly in immigration law practice, the underlying issues in the case are painfully familiar to most immigration practitioners. Ms. Chaidez’s case is one in a long line of cases exploring the growing and troubling intersection between the criminal justice and immigration systems. As Congress vastly expanded the immigration consequences of criminal convictions over the last two decades, those consequences became an important component of advice any competent defense attorney must discuss with her client before that client accepts a plea bargain. To suggest that recognition of this reality is fundamentally different from previous rulings about ineffective assistance of counsel would minimize the enormous impact of the criminal-immigration system on many who call the United States home.