New York Court Rules Judges Must Warn Immigrants That A Guilty Plea Often Means Deportation

| by Jonathan Wolfe

A panel of New York judges ruled on Tuesday that state judges must inform legal non-citizens facing felony charges that entering a guilty plea may result in their deportation.

Judges have been advised since the mid-1990s to warn immigrants about the possibility of being deported after entering a guilty plea, but the warning was not legally required until Tuesday. The court’s decision was made in response to three recent criminal cases in which judges failed to tell defendants about their probable deportation.

After Tuesday’s ruling, New York judges are not allowed to accept a guilty plea without first warning the defendant of the consequences of their plea. 

In the majority opinion, Judge Abdus-Salaam wrote that “deportation constitutes such a substantial and unique consequence of a plea that it must be mentioned by the trial court to defendant as a matter of fundamental fairness.”

New York now joins 20 other states requiring judges to warn immigrants of the risk of submitting a guilty plea.

“Courts should be doing this already but in practice they are not,” said Rosemary Herbert, a New York attorney. “This decision is putting some teeth in that requirement.”

According to the New York Times, more than 188,000 New York immigrants have been deported as a result of entering a guilty plea in court. According to Human Rights Watch, 77 percent of these legal non-citizens were deported for non-violent crimes.

The ruling overturns the courts 1995 verdict that deportation was a “collateral consequence” of pleading guilty, and so judges need not warn defendants of the consequences of their plea.

New York attorney Lynn W.L. Fahey noted that the ruling also opens up an appeal avenue for immigrants who entered a guilty plea in the past without warning.

“The decision certainly makes clear that judges from now going forward must warn, and it opens up an avenue for defendants who are already convicted and haven’t been warned to appeal,” Fahey said. 

Source: New York Times, Think Progress