Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Circuit Split Watch: Variations on the Padilla Theme

This article first appeared in the January 10, 2012, issue of the National Law Journal’s Supreme Court Insider.

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon have the chance to revisit Padilla v. Kentucky, its 2010 decision holding—at the intersection of criminal and immigration laws—that the Sixth Amendment requires attorneys to inform their clients about the possible deportation consequences of a guilty plea.

In recent months, three federal appellate courts split 2-1 on whether Padilla applies retroactively, teeing the cases up for possible review by the Supreme Court. All three were denied rehearing en banc.

Chaidez v. United States, from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, is already the subject of a petition for certiorari.

In 2003, Roselva Chaidez, a lawful permanent resident of the United States since 1977, pled guilty to fraud related to a staged accident insurance scheme and, in 2004, was sentenced to probation. Five years later, after Chaidez tried to apply for citizenship, the federal government initiated removal proceedings against her. Because the admitted fraud caused the victims to lose more than $10,000, it qualified as an aggravated felony, and Chaidez was eligible for deportation.

Chaidez took the matter to federal district court, filing a coram nobis motion, which is a collateral attack similar to habeas, except the defendant is not in custody. Chaidez argued that her attorney did not tell her that a guilty plea could get her deported. Had she known, she would not have pled guilty. Chaidez alleged ineffective assistance of counsel and asked that her conviction be overturned.

Looking to Padilla, which the Supreme Court decided while Chaidez’s motion was pending, the district court vacated her conviction.

The 7th Circuit reversed, over Judge Ann Claire Williams’ dissent.

Judge Joel Flaum, writing for himself and Senior Judge William Bauer, explained that Padilla is not retroactive, meaning that it only applies to cases on direct review, not to a coram nobis motion or other collateral attack. The direct line of Chaidez’s criminal case had been final for years, when she pled guilty and did not appeal.

In Judge Flaum’s view, Padilla announced a groundbreaking new rule that lower courts had not anticipated. In fact, Flaum noted, federal courts before Padilla had unanimously held that plea counsel is not constitutionally required to warn clients of immigration consequences.

Judge Williams disagreed, finding that Padilla applies retroactively to collateral review. Risk of deportation is important information to know before entering a plea. Williams urged that “prevailing professional norms at the time of Chaidez’s plea required a lawyer to advise her client of the immigration consequences of a guilty plea.” Under Supreme Court precedent cited by Williams, such norms have long been relevant to whether counsel’s representation was reasonable.

The 7th Circuit panel knew that its decision would create a circuit split. Less than two months earlier, the 3rd Circuit in United States v. Orocio determined, like Judge Williams, that Padilla applied retroactively. Following 7th Circuit Rule 40(e), the panel distributed the majority and dissent to all ten active 7th Circuit judges. The majority voted not to rehear the case en banc. However, as reported in the panel opinion, four judges voted for rehearing.

The 7th Circuit also denied a later rehearing en banc petition, this time without a vote requested, presumably because the court had previously taken and announced its vote.

Joining the 7th Circuit and making the split 2-1, the 10th Circuit in United States v. Chang Hong ruled that Padilla is not retroactive. Although not precedent, a footnote in United States v. Hernandez-Monreal, a 4th Circuit unpublished opinion from 2010, stated, without analysis, that “nothing in the Padilla decision indicates that it is retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review.”

A petition for certiorari has already been filed in the 7th Circuit case, and petitions from the 3rd and 10th Circuit cases could soon follow.