Last week the Washington State Supreme Court found in the case of State v. Sandoval that a criminal defense counsel’s representation was ineffective when he erroneously advised a non-citizen regarding the immigration consequences of accepting a plea. The Court also found that reliance on that advice prejudiced the client’s outcome, by having them plea guilty to a deportable criminal offense, when they may not have agreed to the plea if they understood the deportation consequence. By ruling as such, the Supreme Court opened the door for the non-citizen to pursue post-conviction relief from deportation.
The case is predicated on the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision last year of Padilla v. Kentucky, where the high court found that immigration consequences are not collateral consequences to criminal proceedings, and must be affirmatively addressed by defense counsel.
Immigration law is inherently complicated. I find that even the most seasoned defense attorneys are regularly challenged to recognize the consequences of plea agreement. In fact, it is these defense attorneys who tend to spot the issues earliest, and see that immigration is addressed in a timely manner. As per the two courts, such analysis is now required.