The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to effective assistance of counsel during all "critical stages" of a criminal proceeding. In the context of plea negotiations, this means that criminal defense attorneys must convey plea offers to their client in a timely fashion and give adequate advice about the consequences of accepting or rejecting the offer. The United States Supreme Court previously held, in a case called Padilla v. Kentucky, that this duty extends to advice about the immigration consequences of entering a plea. In an opinion rendered last week, Lee v. United States, the Supreme Court held that bad advice about immigration consequences can support post-conviction relief, even in situations where the defendant did not have any reasonable hope of winning at trial.
In an opinion rendered this week-Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado-the Supreme Court carved out an important exception to a longstanding rule prohibiting jurors from being questioned about conduct during deliberations after a verdict has been rendered. The case involved a Colorado man who was convicted for sexually assaulting two teenage girls. The jury returned a verdict against him. After the trial, two jurors approached Mr. Pena-Rodriguez's criminal defense attorney and expressed concerns about another juror's racial comments during deliberations. Specifically, the juror went into a lengthy tirade about Mr. Pena-Rodriguez's Hispanic heritage, noting that he "believed the defendant was guilty because, in [the juror's] experience as an ex-law enforcement officer, Mexican men had a bravado that caused them to believe they could do whatever they wanted with women."
When a criminal defendant wants to challenge a state court conviction, the highest state court is rarely the last stop. Prisoners who have exhausted their options in state court can often get a second chance at challenging their trial court's errors through a petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Federal habeas petitions can only challenge a state court's conviction for constitutional violations. However, even violations of state rules of criminal procedure can take on a constitutional dimension through the Sixth Amendment's guarantee to effective assistance of counsel, if the defendant's attorney failed to raise those issues or argue them properly.
A motion for post conviction relief is typically a defendant's last resort for attempting to overturn a criminal conviction. It could also be a last effort to be released from prison after direct appeal of the person's criminal case has been denied or not been effective. Typical grounds for one seeking post conviction relief could include: