Tuesday, February 24, 2009
The Right To Know The Penalties
Does a defendant in an American courtroom have the right to know what can happen to him, especially if he pleads guilty? The answer would seem obvious to most of us. It would be extremely unfair to spring a surprise punishment on a defendant after he pleads guilty. Under the rule of law, any defendant should be apprised of all possible consequences of his guilty plea or guilty verdict.
But believe it or not, there are some courts in this country who don't think all defendants should have that right. Consider the case of Jose Padilla. Padilla is a Honduran immigrant. He served in the American military during the Vietnam War, and has lived in this country for decades -- but he never became a citizen.
Padilla was arrested in Kentucky for "trafficking" in marijuana. After his lawyer told him he would not be deported, Padilla entered a plea of guilty. But his lawyer was wrong, and the United States government began deportation procedures. Padilla withdrew his plea, and the case has now reached the highest court in the land.
The crux of the case is that immigrants have the right to be told of all possible actions that could be taken against them, including deportation. The United States Supreme Court has decided to hear the case and make a ruling on this matter. They will hear arguments from both sides this coming Fall.
I have a hard time believing this matter is even in question. We are supposed to be a nation of laws and believers in a fair system of justice. How can a system be fair unless defendants are told the truth about possible consequences?
I know some right-wingers will say the system is meant only to be fair to citizens, but that is a ridiculous assertion. How can a system be fair when it treats some defendants more equally than others? What about tourists? Does the system not have to be fair to them because they are not U.S. citizens?
The only way our system of justice can be considered fair is if it treats everyone the same -- even those immigrants without proper documentation. After all, if you can deny equal rights to one group, then you can do it to any other group.
There is no question here. Immigrants have the right to know about all possible punishments, including deportation, before they go to trial or plead guilty.