Guilty Pleas and the Hidden Minefield of Immigration Consequences for Alien Defendants: Achieving a "Just Result" by Adjusting Maine's Rule 11 Procedure
On August 19, 1998, Defendant Awralla Aldus pleaded guilty to an aggravated assault charge and other charges pursuant to counsel's advice. As a result of a plea bargain, the defendant received a sentence of five years in prison, with all but 90 days suspended. In addition, she received four years of probation resulting from the aggravated assault charge and concurrent sentences of 60 days for the other charges. Despite covering “every facet of the case,” however, counsel was completely unaware that his client's three months in jail would be followed by the threat of removal from the United States. In 1996, Congress passed laws making aliens “conclusively presumed to be deportable” as a result of any “aggravated felony” conviction in state or federal courts. Previously, the term “aggravated felony” related to criminal convictions with a sentence of more than one year, but the laws passed in 1996 have greatly expanded the scope of the term to include crimes that are not felonies. The new laws also require suspended sentences to be treated as time actually served in prison, making it much easier to render an alien deportable. Because the defendant's suspended sentence exceeded one year, her conviction made her subject to removal procedures. To say that the 1996 laws have created confusion and heartache in courts would be a gross understatement. State courts, in particular, have seen a marked increase in litigation resulting from the peculiar interplay of state and federal laws. State criminal cases are entirely distinct from federal deportation proceedings, which are civil in nature. Yet, most state courts are aware that a conviction for an aggravated felony in state court will automatically trigger federal deportation proceedings for an alien defendant. As such, federal deportation consequences are often the most important factor informing an alien defendant's decision to plead guilty or go to trial in a state criminal case. Although it is clear that immigration consequences matter a great deal to an alien defendant, the question remains; should they matter at all to a court in a state criminal proceeding? Confusion over the materiality of immigration consequences has been most acute in two areas of law in which defendants have constitutionally mandated protections: cases involving the Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel and cases involving Rule 11 protections, which aim to ensure that a defendant's guilty plea is knowing, voluntary, and based in fact. Though the case law on ineffective counsel and Rule 11 cases is fairly extensive, it is important to note that the progression of the common law is like a river that is never at rest. Sweeping changes accompanying recent immigration laws have led some state courts to adjust the substantive law to reflect the idea that immigration consequences can be material to a guilty plea in certain circumstances. By examining the facts and holdings of new cases in relation to those of the prior case law, it is possible to obtain a “functional definition” of the law—a window into the meaning and scope of the law. Functionally defining the law in a single jurisdiction is particularly instructive because it provides an opportunity to assess the law in a real context. Because a description of the law should precede a prescription for changing the law, this Comment focuses on the single jurisdiction of Maine, describing its case law and proposing changes aimed at enhancing judicial procedures.
Daniel J. Murphy,
Guilty Pleas and the Hidden Minefield of Immigration Consequences for Alien Defendants: Achieving a "Just Result" by Adjusting Maine's Rule 11 Procedure,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol54/iss1/7