ACLU Hails New Mexico Court Decision Upholding Immigrants' Right to Effective Counsel

Affiliate: ACLU of New Mexico
September 1, 2004 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Immigrants Must Be Told that Guilty Pleas Can Lead to Deportation, Court Rules

ALBUQUERQUE — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico today hailed a unanimous decision by the State Supreme Court requiring that immigrants be told they could be deported if they plead guilty to a crime.

In its ruling in State v. Paredez, the court noted that “proper advice will allow the defendant to make a knowing and voluntary decision to plead guilty.”

“We are extremely pleased with the court’s decision in this matter,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico. “Often people plead guilty to a crime in order to avoid the risk of going to trial and being found guilty of a much more serious charge. In some cases they aren’t even guilty of the crime to which they plead. If immigrants don’t know that a guilty plea puts them at risk of permanent deportation, they can unwittingly sacrifice their legal status in the United States. The court’s decision should now prevent that from happening.”

Attorney Tova Indritz provided a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, the New Mexico Civil Liberties Foundation (litigation arm of the ACLU of New Mexico), and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. She characterized the court’s opinion as “very forward-looking.”

“Not only did the court find that wrong advice to the defendant is ineffective assistance of counsel,” Indritz said, “but it also found that a client’s case could be prejudiced by omission of advice about the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. The court explicitly sought to provide full protection for the due process rights of immigrant defendants. Thousands of immigrants who are currently in the criminal justice system, and many more to come, will benefit from this decision.”

The opinion by Justice Pam Minzer found that the requirement for attorneys to give proper immigration advice is consistent with a rule that prohibits the district court from accepting a guilty plea without first determining that the defendant has an understanding of the immigration consequences of the plea. Minzer suggested a re-draft of the rule with respect to the trial judge’s duties in accepting a plea.

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