When New Supreme Court Rulings Do Not Apply Retroactively

In Padilla v. Kentucky, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an ineffective assistance of counsel claim under the Sixth Amendment could be based on a defense attorney’s failure to apprise a criminal defendant of the immigration consequences of entering a guilty plea. For many, a guilty plea could lead to deportation from the country.

Leading up to Padilla, most lower courts had not considered an attorney’s failure to warn a defendant of collateral consequences like deportation as being grounds for an ineffective assistance claim. However, the court ruled that Padilla does not apply retroactively to criminal convictions entered prior to March 2010. Unfortunately, even though the court recognized the importance of being appropriately informed of deportation risks, it has declined to extend the same justice to defendants who were caught unaware prior to the Padilla decision.

The facts of Chaidez v. United States are interesting:

  • The defendant had been a lawful permanent resident of the United States since 1977.
  • On the advice of her attorney, Chaidez pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud in connection with a small insurance scam.
  • She was only sentenced to probation and ordered to pay restitution.
  • Chaidez argued that she was never warned that the conviction would lead to mandatory deportation.
  • In 2009, the federal government sought to deport her, and she filed a petition for a writ of coram nobis to set aside her 2004 conviction.
  • The Supreme Court decided Padilla while Chaidez’s petition was pending.

The 7th Circuit held in Chaidez’s case that Padilla does not apply to a challenge to a conviction that became final before Padilla was decided. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 7th Circuit’s decision that the protections of the new rule announced in Padilla do not extend to those whose convictions were final before it was decided. In accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision in Teague v. Lane, Padilla would apply retroactively only if it did not create a “new rule.” However, the majority in Chaidez found that Padilla announced a new rule and, therefore, cannot be applied retroactively. The dissenting justices, Justice Sotomayor and Justice Ginsburg, argued that this was not a new rule, but merely the application of current case law regarding claims of ineffective assistance in a different setting.