Ignorance Not Bliss

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[New York News]

New York City’s prosecutors and judges are failing to inform non-citizens of the implications of guilty plea agreements.

This is the view of Brooklyn lawmaker, Councilmember Dr. Kendall Stewart. He noted that these agreements allow a defendant to plead guilty to a charge in exchange for a lesser penalty are encouraged by an over-burdened court system because they help to speed up trials, avoid protracted legal battles, and help free up the clogged system.

“This is a tool used by our court system that has had negative effects on non-citizen immigrant communities in the city,” Stewart said. “A guilty plea, even in response to a mere violation or misdemeanor, can effectively become a sentence of deportation, mandatory detention or ineligibility for future citizenship. I believe that prosecutors and judges should be mandated by law to inform these defendants of these implications before they enter a guilty plea.”

Councilmember Stewart has asked his colleagues at the New York City Council to support his Resolution 1984 that urges the New York State legislature to pass a law that would require New York State courts, prior to accepting a plea to a felony, misdemeanor or violation, to advise defendants of immigration consequences. This law would also provide substantive remedies for defendants who plead guilty without knowledge of such consequences.

“This is about due process that is a fundamental human and civil right set forth in our Constitution. It calls for our courts to ensure that people are well informed of the consequences of their decisions and actions when appearing as a defendant. The laws that we now have in place are insufficient and only require notifications in felony cases. There is also no mechanism for enforcement or remedies if courts, judges and prosecutors fail to notify defendants about the consequences of a guilty plea on their immigration status, citizenship and personal records,” Councilmember Stewart noted.

As a result of the 1996 changes to federal immigration laws non-citizens who enter a guilty plea are at greater risk for deportation or removal from the United States – even for guilty pleas that involve relatively minor violations or misdemeanors.

These changes has resulted in 1.6 million family members in the United States being separated from their wives, husbands and children as result of removal since immigration reform legislation was passed in 1996.

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