Immigration Clinic Tackles Criminal Plea Bargaining

Sunday, September 1, 2013

This semester, student attorneys in UNLV’s Immigration Clinic will be spending time away from Immigration Clinic. Instead, they will be in criminal court — Las Vegas Justice Court, to be exact. 

In a new pilot project, clinic students will shadow two teams of defense attorneys from the Clark County Public Defender in order to help them better serve non-citizens accused of crimes. The idea is to implement a 2010 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, known as Padilla v. Kentucky, that held that immigrants have a constitutional right to information about immigration consequences before accepting plea bargains in criminal cases. For immigrants facing low level criminal charges, the risk of deportation is often worse than any threatened prison sentence. The Supreme Court encouraged defense and prosecutors to plea bargain creatively to avoid unnecessary deportations. 

Despite the Supreme Court decision, advising criminal defendants about immigration adds to the challenges for public defenders. By attending arraignments each morning — and witnessing the speed at which plea offers are made and considered — the clinic hopes to help the Public Defender better represent immigrant clients to minimize collateral consequences.