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The bill would require a magistrate to inform an arrestee that if the person is not a citizen of the United States of America, a plea of guilty or nolo contendere may affect the person's immigration or residency status and may result in deportation, exclusion from admission to this country, or denial of naturalization for misdemeanor offenses. Currently, this requirement is in place for felony charges, even though the consequences of a misdemeanor offence could have the same impact. According to the Office of Court Administration, the bill would reduce post-conviction proceedings and retrials but could also increase the number of noncitizens pleading not guilty and asking for a jury.
There are several reasons why this legislation is inconsistent with the proper role of limited government and for which we are subsequently opposed.
This legislation would set up a specific class of criminal defendant, people who are not United States citizens, to receive a legal clarification from the magistrate that would not also be given to other defendants. Granted, the legal consequences of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere may have different consequences for a citizen versus a foreign national. That notwithstanding, if any class of criminal defendants is going to benefit from the free legal counsel of a magistrate prior to entering a plea, all criminal defendants should receive the same benefit.
Our stronger objection, and perhaps more to the point, is that judges shouldn't be giving this type of legal advice in the first place. That is the job of defense counsel. Immigration law in particular is very complex and it is likely that judges will have a difficult time complying with this law and applying it evenly across the state. The role of giving legal counsel to a criminal defendant should remain the sole responsibility of the defendant's legal counsel.
For these reasons this legislation would violate the principle of limited government and we recommend legislators join us in opposing HB 559.