From the Boston Bar Journal: Commonwealth v. Clarke: Padilla Ruled Retroactive in Massachusetts

Monday, January 09, 2012

By Jesse M. Boodoo

Nearly two years since its release, the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v.
Kentucky
, __ U.S. __, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010), continues to generate interest in the increasingly intersecting worlds of criminal and immigration law. The landmark case established that an attorney provides ineffective assistance of counsel when she fails to inform a noncitizen client that a guilty plea carries a risk of deportation. While the prospective impact of Padilla was clear from day one, the retrospective effect was initially more difficult to gauge. Prior to the decision, virtually no jurisdiction held defense counsel ineffective for failing to warn a client about the deportation consequences of a plea. Could Padilla then really be used to attack past pleas negotiated under this widely-accepted and longstanding view of the law? The Supreme Court did not address whether Padilla should apply retroactively to pleas predating the decision, leaving lower courts to consider that question on their own as they faced a wave of post-conviction Padilla claims.

In Commonwealth v. Clarke, 460 Mass. 30 (2011), the Supreme Judicial Court offered the first Massachusetts appellate guidance on Padilla, and became the first high court in the country to hold that Padilla should be applied retroactively. On the facts before it, however, the SJC concluded that the defendant had failed to make a sufficient showing of prejudice to warrant a new trial. Clarke has attracted much attention since its release, serving as both a flashpoint in the ongoing debate over Padilla’s meaning and a crucial guide for practitioners litigating their own Padilla claims.

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