Chaidez v. United States: At Supreme Court, NIJC Defends Immigrants' Right to Effective Assistance of Counsel

October 29, 2012

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This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case of Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) client Roselva Chaidez, in which advocates argue that immigrants’ right to effective assistance of counsel existed before the Court’s 2010 ruling in Padilla v. Kentucky.

In the Padilla ruling, the Court found that criminal defense attorneys are obliged to inform noncitizen clients that certain guilty pleas and convictions could make them subject to deportation. NIJC and its co-counsel in Chaidez v. United States argue that this ruling should apply retroactively. Under U.S. immigration law, even minor offenses not involving jail time can subject noncitizens, including long-time permanent residents and others who are lawfully present, to deportation.

“Knowing the immigration consequences of a conviction is critical for a noncitizen deciding whether to accept a guilty plea, particularly when they may face detention, deportation, and permanent separation from their families,” said NIJC Director of Litigation Charles Roth. “People who were deprived of this basic due process should not be further deprived of justice simply because their pleas occurred prior to 2010.”

Ms. Chaidez’s criminal defense attorney failed to tell her in the early 2000s that a guilty plea, in which she admitted to playing a minor role in a scheme involving insurance fraud, would subject her to mandatory deportation. She was sentenced to four years’ probation. A lawful permanent resident at the time, she did not realize her conviction made her deportable until she disclosed it in 2007 as she applied for U.S. citizenship. For Ms. Chaidez, 56, deportation would mean permanent separation from her U.S. citizen children and grandchildren. Ms. Chaidez has asked the Supreme Court to find that Padilla applies to her case and to vacate her conviction so that she may have an opportunity to defend herself with a full understanding of the immigration consequences at stake in her criminal case.

Argument in this case has been rescheduled for Thursday, November 1, 2012, due to government closures during Hurricane Sandy.

Ms. Chaidez is represented by lead counsel Jeffrey Fisher of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Clinic; Roth, Claudia Valenzuela, and Sarah Rose Weinman of NIJC; Gerardo Gutierrez of the Law Offices of Gerardo Gutierrez; Thomas Goldstein and Kevin Russell of Goldstein & Russell, P.C.; and Valerie Marsh, Kathleen Sanderson, and Angela Vigil of Baker & McKenzie LLP.

Five "friend of the court" briefs have been filed with the Supreme Court in support of Ms. Chaidez's arguments. Links to Ms. Chaidez’s brief and the amicus briefs, as well as decisions of the lower courts, are available at http://www.immigrantjustice.org/court_cases/chaidez-v-united-states.