Court takes case on immigrant defendants; Will rule on Neo-Nazi's Death Sentence
The Associated Press
February 23, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide a frequently recurring question involving immigrants: whether they must be told by their lawyers that they face deportation if they plead guilty to serious crimes.
The justices stepped into a case from the state of Kentucky involving a Honduran national who pleaded guilty to trafficking in marijuana after his lawyer assured him he would not face deportation. Jose Padilla is a Vietnam-era veteran who has lived in the United States for decades, although he never became a U.S. citizen.
Padilla's lawyer was mistaken and the federal government began proceedings to deport Padilla because trafficking is regarded as an "aggravated felony," for which deportation is mandatory.
When he realized the consequences of his plea, Padilla sought to withdraw it. A Kentucky appeals court ruled in his favor, but the state Supreme Court said criminal lawyers have no duty to advise their clients about immigration issues.
State and federal courts around the U.S. have come to differing conclusions about immigrants' constitutional rights to effective legal representation. But the issue arises often in U.S. courts, particularly since Congress tightened the rules in the mid-1990s to make deportation automatic for many crimes.
The U.S. high court will hear arguments later this year.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court decided Monday it will take a new look at whether a neo-Nazi convicted of murdering three men in Ohio should be sentenced to death.
The justices said they will hear the state's plea to reinstate the death sentence for Frank Spisak in arguments scheduled for the fall.
Spisak, a self-described neo-Nazi, was convicted in the shooting deaths of the three men at the Cleveland State University campus over a seven-month period in 1982.
The federal appeals court in Cincinnati has twice ordered a new sentencing hearing for Spisak, saying he received ineffective counsel during the sentencing phase of his trial and a judge's instructions to the jury were unconstitutional.
In 2007, the justices reinstated Spisak's death sentence in a ruling that chastised federal appeals courts for second-guessing the decisions of trial judges in murder cases.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, acting after the Supreme Court ruling, reached the same conclusion it did the first time and threw out Spisak's death sentence.
One of the issues before the court is whether Ohio's jury instructions at the time properly informed juries that a single vote against the death penalty would result in a life sentence instead, said Michael Benza, one of Spisak's attorneys.
Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray planned a statement later Monday, said spokeswoman Holly Hollingsworth.
Spisak's trial in June 1983 turned into a racially and sexually charged public spectacle in which he grew an Adolf Hitler-style mustache and carried a copy of Hitler's book "Mein Kampf." He said he was an agent of God in a war against blacks and Jews.
The case is Smith v. Spisak, 08-724.