Fifty years ago on March 18, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Gideon v. Wainwright that every person deserves to have a qualified defense attorney, regardless of ability to pay. At that time, Clarence Earl Gideon, a drifter in Florida who was too poor to afford a lawyer, was denied representation at trial, convicted, and sentenced to five years in prison.
For today’s Gideons, the need for equal protection under the law is greater than ever — particularly for the millions of immigrants who come to our country seeking opportunity and fairness. Had Gideon been an immigrant in today’s criminal justice system, he would not only have been imprisoned for his crime, but would likely suffer the additional penalty of detention by federal immigration authorities and then deportation.
The Gideon ruling embodies one of America’s most cherished ideals – equal application of constitutional rights for all. Sadly, the criminal justice system has been undermined and often usurped for federal civil immigration enforcement efforts. More people were deported last year than any other year in our nation’s history, with an increase in the deportation of individuals who have already done their time.
For those who think that Gideon’s promise does not extend to immigrants, they need only look to a more recent, though less recognized Supreme Court ruling – Padilla v. Kentucky. Jose Padilla, a lawful permanent resident for over 40 years and U.S. military veteran, was told by his defense counsel that he would not be deported as a result of his case. Tragically, that was not true. Mr. Padilla faced mandatory immigration detention and deportation under federal laws without the opportunity for a judge to weigh other factors, such as his length of time in the U.S. or his military service. Because deportation is often an integral part of the penalty that may be imposed on them, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Padilla and other immigrant defendants deserve quality counsel to fully understand the stakes of their case and their options.
Both Gideon and Padilla are landmark cases that protect the constitutional right to counsel. However, just as the system struggles to fulfill the promise of Gideon, so too it struggles to fulfill Padilla. The reality is that Supreme Court decisions don’t come to fruition simply by virtue of the ruling. There is an underlying political context that determines the extent to which these constitutional principles stand for individuals in courtrooms across America.
One of these political contexts is the looming prospect of federal immigration reform, which will undoubtedly affect individuals who our office represents in the system everyday. In the last few years we have seen more immigrants funneled into the criminal justice system as a result of the federal government’s increased collaboration with local law enforcement officials. Yet, Congress’ and the Administration’s messages around who will be eligible to legalize their status always points to those individuals with a clear record.
Despite the fact that our office has long practiced equal and effective representation for all individuals regardless of legal status, these ongoing changes in immigration laws and policies continue to frustrate defense lawyers’ ability to effectively defend our clients. Every day, our office advises our clients of the immigration-related consequences of their pleas; but because of the fast-changing legal landscape it is impossible to know whether advice to our clients today could be completely overwritten by what Congress writes into an immigration reform law tomorrow.
In a system where 97 percent of criminal cases are resolved by plea bargain, our clients are likely to plead to some crime. Everyday we speculate as to whether we negotiated a deal that may allow our clients to be eligible to legalize their status under a future immigration reform, or if such a plea would close that door to them in the future.
When it comes to immigration, shifting political sentiments hamstring public defenders from fulfilling the promise of Padilla and the spirit of Gideon. Comprehensive immigration reform is currently underway in Congress. On behalf of public defenders across the country, I urge our elected officials to provide clear, fair guidelines for a path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants in our country. We need laws that take into account immigrants’ individual circumstances and give them a shot at a second chance despite past mistakes.
Paulino Duran is a Sacramento County Public Defender, Executive Committee Member of the American Council of Chief Defenders of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, and an Advisory Member to the Defending Immigrants Partnership.
Saturday, March 23
7pm—Lummis Day Film Night at the Highland Park Ebell Club. Program features Ritchie Valens, Los Lobos and other Chicano music legends in “Chicano Rock,” the story of young Mexican-Americans whose music expressed the unique identity of the California Chicano. Excerpts from “Lola’s Love Shack,” the new comedy from Patrick Perez will be shown. Both films will be introduced by their directors. Tickets are $15 and benefit the Lummis Day Festival. Highland Park Ebell Club is located at 131 S. Ave. 57, LA 90042. For more information, or to buy tickets, go to www.LummisDay.org or call (818) 535-9178.
Friday, March 22
12:00 to 1:30 p.m.– Free Senior Scam Stopper Seminar at the Commerce Senior Citizen Center. Learn how to protect yourself from fraud relating to home repair, insurance, finances, identity theft, Medicare, housing and more. Seniors, their families and caregivers as well as other stakeholders are welcome to attend. The seminar is presented by Senator Ron Calderon, the Contractors State License Board and the Commerce Senior Citizens Center. The center is located at 2555 Commerce Way, Commerce, CA 90040. For more information call (323) 887-4430.
5:30-8:30pm—Immigration Educational Forum & Workshops Presented by the Southeast Leadership Network at Bell Gardens High School (Auditorium). U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard will update efforts in the Congress. Topics/workshops include Deferred Action, victims of crime (UVISA) & domestic abuse (VAWA), citizenship, financial aid for AB 540 students, etc. Bell Gardens High is located at 6119 Agra St. Bell Gardens 90201.
6-7pm—Evening with Cartoonist Lonnie Millsap at the Atlantic Branch Library in Commerce moderated by Award Winning Animator Jim Lujan and Artist/Cartoonist Jose Cabrera. Doors open at 5:30pm. Library is located at 2269 S. Atlantic Blvd., Commerce 90040. For more information, call (323) 780-1176.
Saturday, March 23
9am-3pm—Free Countywide Household Hazardous and E-Waste Roundup in Lynwood. Los Angeles County residents can safely discard of household hazardous waste such as antifreeze, unused pharmaceuticals, car batteries, used motor oil, paint, pesticides, home-generated sharps waste such as hypodermic needles, pen needles, syringes, lancets, and intravenous needles, universal waste including household batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, and electronic waste (e-waste) such as TVs and monitors, computers, VCRs, stereos, and cell phones. The Roundup will be held at the Intersection of Butler Avenue and Bellinger Street in Lynwood. For more information, call County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works at 1(888) CLEAN LA or go to www.888CleanLA.com or the Sanitation Districts of LA County at 1 (800) 238-0172 or www.lacsd.org.
9am-1pm—Montebello Lions Club Rummage Sale Scholarship Fundraiser at the Montebello Senior Center: 115 S. Taylor Ave. (back of bldg.) Proceeds benefit 12th grade students who live or attend school in Montebello. Donations for the sale will also be accepted at the same location on Friday, March 22 from 3:30 to 7:30pm. No large appliances or large pieces of furniture. For more information, call (909) 598-0554.
1pm—Citizenship Test Study Session at the Robert Louis Stevenson Library in East LA. Study with others preparing for the citizenship test in English and Spanish. Additional sessions will be held Mar. 30, Apr. 20, & May 4, at 1pm. Library is located at 803 Spence St. LA 90023. For more information, call (323) 268-4710.
5pm—53rd Annual Miss Commerce Pageant at the Commerce Casino. Pageant will be broadcast live on Commerce Municipal Cable Channel 3, 32 and at www.ci.commerce.ca.us, where you can also get more information.
7:30pm—Free Screening of the Documentary “Ghost of the Third Reich,” about the descendants of the Nazis. Presented by the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California & the Breed Street Shul Project. Attendees must be at least high school aged, RSVPs recommended via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Shul is located at 247 N. Breed St., Boyle Heights 90033. For more information, call (323) 881-4850 or visit www.breedstreetshul.org
Wednesday, March 27
7-8:45pm—Colorado Boulevard Bike Lane Community Town Hall Meeting at Occidental College to discuss and solicit feedback on proposed bike lanes under the 2010 City of Los Angeles Bike Plan. Meeting will be held in Norris Hall of Chemistry, Mosher #1, 1600 Campus Rd. LA 90041. For more information, contact Councilman Jose Huizar’s Northeast Office at (323) 254-5295 or email email@example.com.
11am—Child Passenger Safety Workshop at Barrio Action Youth and Family Center in El Sereno. Participants will learn how to properly use a car seat. Free car seats will be given to some pre-registered low-income participants. To pre-register or for more information, call (323) 221-0779. Barrio Action is located at 4927 Huntington Dr., LA 90032.
11:30am-1pm—East LA Chamber of Commerce Business Seminar Luncheon with LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey as the guest speaker. Lacey will speak on her vision for the DA’s office, white collar crime & workers comp fraud, identity theft. Lunch is $20 per member, $25 for non-members. Location: Tamayo Restaurant, 5300 E. Olympic Blvd. LA, 90022. For more information, call (323) 263-2005 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
7:30pm—Special screening of “Ghost of the Third Reich” at the Breed Street Shul in Boyle Heights. The thought-provoking documentary documents the moving stories of descendants of the Nazis, who share a common desire to distance themselves from Nazi ideology & to liberate themselves from the guilt they bear seventy years later. Event is free, but donations encouraged. RSVP’s are recommended via email at: email@example.com. Recommended for High School age and older. For more information call (323) 881-4850 or visit www.breedstreetshul.org. The Shul is located at 247 N. Breed St. Boyle Heights 90033.
TELACU Community Capital (TCC) Free Health Care Seminar March 28 on recent change trends in Labor/ employment law and Workers Compensation of interest to managers, supervisors and business owners. Forum is from 9am to 12pm. Space is limited; light breakfast will be served. Location: TELACU Bldg, 4th Floor, 5400 E. Olympic Blvd. LA 90022. To RSVP or for more information, contact Cristina Castanon by Mar. 27 at firstname.lastname@example.org or (323) 587-6326.
Thursday Night Movies at the Robert Louis Stevenson Library kicks off March 28 at 5pm. Movies are free and appropriate for the whole family. Additional movies dates: Apr. 11, Apr. 35, May 9, all at 5 pm. Library is located at 803 Spence St. LA 90023. For more information, call (323) 268-4710.