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Program could provide assistance to defense attorneys

Sunday, August 4, 2019

A pilot program in Hays County could provide legal assistance to criminal defense attorneys for certain cases involving non-citizens.

On July 30, the Hays County Commissioners Court approved the submission of a grant application for the funding of a pilot program that will establish a Remote Padilla Consultation Project. The project will bring technical assistance to defense attorneys in Hays County to meet their “Padilla” obligation.

Criminal defense attorneys, under the Supreme Court case Padilla v. Kentucky, are required to advise their non-citizen clients about the immigration consequences of pleas, such as the possibility of deportation. However, the Padilla obligation is difficult to meet for most defense attorneys without a dedicated resource or attorney versed in immigration law.

“Our feeling right now is that a lot of places — they’re not meeting their obligation under the Padilla decision — and this is going to be a great resource, we think, to pilot in this region,” said Wesley Shackelford, Deputy Director of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

According to the drafted grant application, about 108 indigent defendants in Hays County were entitled to a Padilla consultation in 2018, totaling 5-6% of criminal cases.

Shackelford said the program will be the first of its kind outside of urban areas in Texas. Hays County will serve as the administrative home for the pilot program, which will serve the 3rd Administrative Judicial Region.

“At this point in the state of Texas, only a handful of the biggest cities have the number of cases within their jurisdiction to hire attorneys who are experts in this area and provide the services,” Shackelford said.

The program will then allow defense attorneys the opportunity to remotely consult an attorney who is knowledgeable about Padilla obligation through the non-profit myPadilla. Julie Wimmer, Attorney and Founder of myPadilla, said that in turn, defense attorneys will be able to advise their clients about the immigration consequences of a conviction.

“Defense attorneys submit a request for case assistance for technical assistance and then I, or an immigration attorney working with me, responds to that case inquiry with detailed advice that they can then use in representing their client and meeting their Padilla obligation,” Wimmer said.

The approved grant will be submitted to the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for the amount of $342,720, which will be used to compensate myPadilla. If the grant is approved, the new program will be free for Hays County and will be brought back to commissioners for consideration at their Aug. 29 meeting.

According to Precinct 3 Commissioner Lon Shell, the issue has been discussed in the criminal justice coordinating commission, a recently-formed entity that was formulated from the County Judge’s Criminal Justice Task Force.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, Precinct 3 Commissioner Lon Shell and County Chief of Staff Alex Villalobos are voting members of the criminal justice coordinating division, which brought the Padilla program forward to the Court.

Shell said he believes the defense bar will appreciate having access to this assistance, and the program will prevent cases from being brought back to the County if proper advice is not given.

“That case could end up being brought back, which is just more cost to our taxpayers and another clog in our system,” Shell said. “So I think that this benefits everyone that is affected and this is a win-win as far as I’m concerned.”

San Marcos Record

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