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Paul Hastings Secures Supreme Court Victory in Padilla v. Kentucky

April 01, 2010

Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP, a leading global law firm, announced today that the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision (7-2) in favor of the firms client Jose Padilla in Padilla v. Kentucky (No. 08-651). In this case, the Court considered whether criminal defendants are protected against ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment with regard to advice on the deportation consequences of guilty pleas.

"This is a historic decision," said Stephen Kinnaird, partner and co-chair of the appellate group at Paul Hastings, who argued the case on behalf of Padilla. "Almost all lower courts had previously held that the Sixth Amendment did not guarantee criminal defendants the competent advice of an attorney regarding the deportation consequences of a guilty plea.

The Court has now recognized that the lawyer's duties have evolved with the increased intertwining of criminal and immigration law, Mr. Kinnaird added. This should avert many of the tragedies that occur when lawful permanent residents are not advised that a guilty plea, even to minor criminal offenses, would result in their immediate deportation."

Kentucky state court had charged Padilla, a legal U.S. resident who has lived in the U.S. since childhood and who served in the U.S. military in Vietnam, with drug trafficking. On the advice of his lawyer, Padilla agreed to accept a plea bargain, not realizing that such a plea would result in his automatic deportation despite his legal status. Padillas lawyer not only failed to advise him of that fact, but he assured Padilla that his immigration status would not be affected. After discovering that deportation would follow automatically, Padilla sought to vacate the conviction entered upon his guilty plea; however, the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled that even if Padilla had been misled into pleading guilty by his own lawyer, he had not been deprived of the effective assistance of counsel that the U.S. Constitutions Sixth Amendment guarantees to all criminal defendants.

In its decision yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Kentucky court and held that Padilla had alleged a violation of his Sixth Amendment rights and that if his allegations were proved true, he was entitled to withdraw his guilty plea. In reaching its conclusion, the Courts majority pointed to the fact that under current federal immigration law, deportation follows virtually automatically from many criminal convictions.

As a result, the Court concluded, it is inaccurate to characterize deportation as a separate or "collateral" consequence of the conviction in all cases, as many lower courts have done. Looking to the prevailing professional standards for criminal defense lawyers, the Court then concluded that in Padillas case, his lawyers failure to advise that deportation would follow from the proposed plea bargain was objectively unreasonable and that, as a result, Padilla was deprived of the "effective assistance of counsel" long held to be part of the Sixth Amendments guarantees.

The majority opinion was written by Justice Stevens, with Justices Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Sotomayor joining. Justice Alito filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Chief Justice Roberts joined. Justice Scalia filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Thomas joined.

Stephen Kinnaird served as lead counsel for Mr. Padilla and led the Paul Hastings team, which included Alexander Lyon, Scott Carlton, Mitchell Mosvick, Elizabeth Stevens, Leeann Rosnick and Adam Cherensky. Timothy Arnold and Richard Neal, who also represented Mr. Padilla in the Kentucky Courts, and Stephanos Bibas and the University of Pennsylvania Law School Supreme Court Clinic served as co-counsel.

Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker is a leading global law firm with offices in Asia, Europe, and the United States. We provide innovative legal solutions to financial institutions and Fortune 500 companies. Please visit www.paulhastings.com for more information.