The United States Supreme Court ruled that criminal defense lawyers have a Sixth Amendment obligation to warn their clients when their guilty pleas can result in deportation.Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion that held that the criminal lawyer representing Jose Padilla should have advised him that a guilty plea to transporting marijuana would make him subject to automatic deportation.

"When the deportation consequence is truly clear, as it was in this case, the duty to give correct advice is equally clear," Stevens wrote.

“We now hold that counsel must inform her client whether his plea carries a risk of deportation,” Stevens said. “Our long-standing Sixth Amendment precedents, the seriousness of deportation as a consequence of a criminal plea, and the concomitant impact of deportation on families living lawfully in this country demand no less.”

The bottom line of the opinion is that a criminal defense lawyer provides ineffective assistance of counsel if he or she misleads a non-citizen about the collateral consequences of a criminal conviction.

Justice Scalia dissented from the majority.

“In the best of all possible worlds, criminal defendants contemplating a guilty plea ought to be advised of all serious collateral consequences of conviction, and surely ought not to be misadvised,” Scalia said. “The Constitution, however, is not an all-purpose tool for judicial construction of a perfect world; and when we ignore its text in order to make it that, we often find ourselves swinging a sledge where a tack hammer is needed.”

The lesson from this case for criminal defense attorneys and clients is a consultation with a immigration lawyer to determine the ramifications of any plea bargain and their immigration status. Don’t enter into a plea until you know how it might effect your legal residency status.