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New York court rules that judges must warn of deportation risk

On Nov. 19, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that judges must inform criminal defendants who are not citizens that, if they plead guilty to certain crimes, they could be deported. This ruling could help provide a valid deportation defense to hundreds of people that would otherwise be at risk for removal.

This decision has been a long time coming, as it stems from a federal law passed in 1996 that mandated removal for any non-citizen convicted of certain misdemeanors. Since that time, thousands of immigrants have been deported because they plead guilty to relatively minor offenses including possession of marijuana or shoplifting. For example, in 2011, approximately 188,000 immigrants were deported due to criminal convictions. That is more than five times the number of convicted criminals that were deported before the law passed.

In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States provided some relief to immigrants, ruling that defense attorneys must tell non-citizens that they might be deported if they plead guilty to certain crimes. The New York decision takes things a step further. In a 5-2 ruling, the judges held that it is up to the judge, not the defense lawyer, to ensure that a criminal defendant understands the risks of a guilty plea. Defendants may be allowed to reverse their pleas later if they can prove that the pleas would not have been entered if they had understood that deportation would result.

When a non-citizen faces deportation, an immigration lawyer could help to review the situation in order to provide the best possible defense. It may also be possible for the lawyer to determine whether there is a way for the alien to seek permanent resident status or naturalization.

Source: Think Progress, "New York Judges Must Warn Immigrants They Could Get Deported For Pleading Guilty", Aviva Shen, November 20, 2013

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