Release Date:  February 20, 2013
Contact:  Michael Rushford
(916) 446-0345

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Decision in Chaidez v. United States upholds habeas corpus limits

In a 7-2 decision announced today the United States Supreme Court upheld the conviction of a foreign national, refusing her request to retroactively apply a decision it announced seven years after her conviction. The issue in Chaidez v. United States was whether the court would uphold its 1989 decision to bar retroactive application of new rules to overturn final judgments. The case involved a Mexican citizen, facing deportation because she pled guilty in 2003 to mail fraud, who claimed that a new requirement announced in the court’s 2010 decision in Padilla v. Kentucky should apply to overturn her conviction.

The California-based Criminal Justice Legal Foundation had joined the case, filing argument and research utilized in the court’s decision. “The purpose of the court’s 1989 decision in Teague v. Lane was to limit the damage caused by the discovery of new rules of law in habeas corpus,” said the Foundation’s Legal Director Kent Scheidegger. “In this case, as in thousands of others, the courts properly followed the rules existing at the time to convict a criminal. The court today confirmed that it would not invalidate those convictions every time a rule is changed,” he added. The Foundation was cited in the court’s Teague decision for providing the argument upon which it was based.

In the court’s majority opinion, Associate Justice Elena Kagan wrote, “Teague makes the retroactivity of our criminal procedure decisions turn on whether they are novel. When we announce a ‘new rule,’ a person whose conviction is already final may not benefit from the decision in a habeas or similar proceeding.”

In 2003, Roselva Chaidez, a Mexican national living in northern Illinois, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and was sentenced by a federal judge to four years probation. The crimes were related to her false claim to an insurance company regarding her alleged injuries in a staged auto accident. She and her accomplices received payments totaling $26,000 in the scam. Under the immigration law, a conviction of fraud makes an alien deportable if the loss to the victim exceeds $10,000.

In 2009, after Chaidez filed an application for citizenship falsely stating that she had never been convicted of a crime, the government initiated deportation proceedings. To avoid deportation, Chaidez petitioned in federal court to overturn her conviction, arguing that the 2010 Padilla ruling applied retroactively to her case. In August 2001, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that claim, noting that Supreme Court precedent prohibits, with narrow exceptions, the retroactive application of new rules of law created by the courts.

When the Supreme Court agreed to hear Chaidez’s appeal last October, the Foundation filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief, arguing that the court’s 1989 decision in Teague v. Lane (won by CJLF) prohibits the retroactive application of a new rule established by a court decision to a case that became final prior to that holding. The Foundation also argues that Padilla’s extension of ineffective assistance claims to include the immigration consequences of a plea bargain was unquestionably a new rule.

“In the Padilla case, the Supreme Court overturned well-settled law to create a new ground to attack final criminal judgments. While this is arguably a desirable change for the future, it should not overturn decades of judgments properly entered under the law in effect at the time,” said Scheidegger. “This is particularly true in a case such as this one, which would have potentially voided the convictions of thousands of aliens who pled guilty to avoid a longer sentence,” he added

CJLF Legal Director Kent Scheidegger is available for comment at (916) 446-0345.