The Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Civil Litigation Clinic secured an important victory with the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in early October, reversing a lower court decision and reviving a Cuban immigrant's claim to vacate his sentence.
In Rodriguez-Penton v. United States, the Sixth Circuit ruled in a split decision that immigrants may prevail on ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The court further acknowledged, following Supreme Court precedent, that the criminal justice system today is a system of pleas, not of trials. Accordingly, in order to prevail, an immigrant no longer needs to insist that
"but for" the ineffective advice of his counsel he would have gone to trial; rather, it is enough to show that he was prejudiced by insisting that he would have obtained a better plea deal but-for the ineffective advice. Accordingly, the Sixth Circuit reversed a lower court decision denying Mr. Rodriguez-Penton's motion to vacate.
C|M|LAW Professor Doron Kalir supervised the clinical work, served as the Attorney of Record and argued the case before the Sixth Circuit. C|M|LAW Professors Jonathan Witmer-Rich, Joseph Mead, Brian Ray and Kenneth Kowalski all provided assistance in preparation for oral argument.
Numerous Clinic students worked on the case over the past two years and were critical in securing the impactful result. C|M|LAW students Derek Smith ’18 and Jeffrey Geisinger assisted in the preparation of Oral Argument. C|M|LAW’s students Ashley Fuchs ’18, Shannon Lear ’18, Danielle Limon ’18, Brandon Morgan ’17, and John Reulbach ’17 assisted in the preparation of numerous briefs — and supplemental briefs — for the court.
"Each step of the way, students were deeply involved — from strategic thinking, to drafting briefs, ‘mooting’ the argument and preparing on the day of oral argument,” said Kalir. “Not only is there no way this case could have come to this conclusion without the students; the students are the ones responsible, to a great extent, for the creative thinking and fresh perspectives presented in this case.”
Rodriguez-Penton v. United States marks a milestone decision for "crimigration" (criminal-immigration), an emerging legal field created following the Supreme Court's seminal Padilla v. Kentucky (2010), where the Court held that non-citizen clients have a constitutional right to be advised by their attorneys about the adverse immigration risks resulting from admission in their criminal proceedings.
"This case demonstrated that immigrants — even those who were convicted for federal crimes — still have rights. The Sixth Circuit has now joined other circuits in holding that immigrants can make an ‘ineffective assistance of counsel’ claim, and win. The Court further acknowledged that in winning, the immigrants should no longer necessarily show that, but for the ineffective advice, they would prevail only if a trial were to take place; rather, recognizing that our legal system is a system of pleas, not trials, the court agreed that all immigrants should show is that they would have obtained a better plea deal if it weren't for the ineffective assistance they received,” explained Kalir.