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US Supreme Court limits immigration ruling in criminal plea deals

Immigration issues can arise in many areas of the law. Essentially, United States law is, at times, more like a web than solely a linear process. This blog previously reported a story on a federal appellate court ruling in a criminal case that cited the Immigration Law Sourcebook. Businesses in Florida are aware that employers have certain employment verification and I-9 compliance issues that arise from immigration law.

In 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled that immigrants accused of a crime in the United States should be advised by their criminal defense lawyer of potential immigration law consequences that could flow from entering a guilty plea to criminal charges. The court at that time indicated that an immigrant not properly advised of potential deportation consequences in pleading guilty to a crime could raise a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel in the criminal case.

The high court ruled Wednesday that the 2010 ruling will not be applied retroactively to criminal cases brought in state courts that became final prior to the 2010 court ruling.

Wednesday's ruling is seen as a defeat for thousands of immigrants who have been convicted in state courts of a crime that may have wished to seek to withdraw a guilty plea. Many of those immigrants may be facing deportation proceedings under U.S. immigration law as a result of the state court criminal conviction.

Essentially, the high court ruling means that immigrants whose criminal convictions entered through a plea without advice on the potential immigration consequences from their defense lawyer will not be able to argue to withdraw the plea if the case became final before the 2010 ruling.

What Wednesday's decision does not necessarily mean is that there is no other removal defense available as a general rule. Nor does Wednesday's ruling mean that going forward immigrants are not entitled to advice on immigration consequences in new plea negotiations. The majority opinion reportedly also states in a footnote that the ruling does not decide the retroactivity issue in federal court proceedings.

The justices handed down the decision in a 7-2 vote. Justice Clarence Thomas concurred in the judgment says that he disagrees with the 2010 ruling. Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, which was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Source: Reuters, "Supreme Court won't extend 2010 immigration ruling," Lawrence Hurley and Jonathan Stempel, Feb. 20, 2013

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