Penn Law students help win recent Supreme Court case

Jeanne Leong

Penn Law students played an integral role in helping lawyers win the Supreme Court case Padilla v. Kentucky, which deals with the legal rights of non-citizens. The Supreme Court’s decision, handed down March 31, requires lawyers to tell non-citizen criminal defendants whether pleading guilty to a crime could lead to their deportation.

Stephanos Bibas and students in his Supreme Court Clinic helped shape the arguments for the case, which tests the limits of the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of effective assistance of counsel for non-citizen criminal defendants. Jose Padilla, a legal permanent resident who lived in the United States for 40 years, had been wrongly told by his attorney that, although he wasn’t a citizen, he would not be deported if he pleaded guilty to a drug charge.

Penn Law students researched state laws to see whether there are differences concerning the ethical obligations that attorneys have when advising clients on the consequences that a guilty plea might have on immigration status. In October, they traveled to the Supreme Court to hear oral arguments in the case.

“This is a historic decision,” says Stephen Kinnaird, Penn Law lecturer and partner of the Washington, DC law firm, Paul Hastings, who argued the case on behalf of Padilla. “The Court has now recognized that the lawyer’s duties have evolved with the increased intertwining of criminal and immigration law.”

The ruling will have a tremendous impact on criminal cases against non-citizens.

“The defense lawyer has to be effective in warning you about this major thing that’s looming and on the horizon,” Bibas says. “The defense lawyer has to tell the client, ‘This crime carries automatic deportation’ and maybe where it’s not so automatic, warn him, ‘There’s a possibility of deportation here, and you need to talk with someone about it for more details.’”

Originally published on April 2, 2010