In a recent decision – Commonwealth v. Sylvester – the Supreme Judicial Court discussed whether an attorney’s failure to advise a client of his obligation to register as a sex offender during a 2002 plea constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. The decision, however, fails to address how additional sex offender registration requirements imposed after 2002 would impact the Court’s analysis of this issue.
The background was as follows. The defendant pleaded guilty in 2002 to a charge of indecent assault and battery, as a result of which he registered as a sex offender. In 2008, the defendant pleaded guilty to a charge of failure to register as a sex offender “and a Superior Court judge sentenced the defendant to probation for three years and imposed community parole supervision for life [CPSL].” In 2013, the defendant filed a motion to withdraw the 2002 guilty plea, in which he argued that his plea counsel was ineffective in failing to communicate a full appreciation of the consequences of pleading guilty to a sex offense. Specifically, the defendant asserted (1) that plea counsel failed to explain that he “‘might have to register with the police indefinitely’”; and (2) that he would not have pleaded guilty if he had “‘fully understood that ‘registering’ meant that [he] would … someday be subject to lifetime community parole.’” The judge denied the defendant’s motion.
In its decision, the SJC noted that “‘[g]enerally, under Massachusetts law, defense counsel’s failure to inform a defendant of collateral or contingent consequences of a plea does not render a plea involuntary[,]’ Commonwealth v. Roberts, 472 Mass. 355, 362 (2015), quoting [Commonwealth v.] Shindell, 63 Mass. App. Ct. [503,] 505 ,” and that “the Appeals Court [in Shindell] [had] concluded, on this basis, that defense counsel is not constitutionally required to warn of sex offender registration consequences.” Nonetheless, the SJC considered the defendant’s argument that Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 364-366 & n.8 (2010), regarding counsel’s failure to warn of the immigration consequences of a plea, had “abrogated the distinction between direct and collateral consequences and created a new framework for determining whether a consequence of conviction has a uniquely ‘close connection’ to the criminal process to require warnings under the right to counsel guaranties of the Sixth Amendment. Under that framework, the defendant assert[ed] that, to provide constitutionally effective assistance, counsel must warn clients about consequences of sex offender registration when they are considering whether to plead guilty to a ‘sex offense’ as defined in G.L. c.6, §178C.” In response to the defendant’s contention, the SJC “reiterate[d] [its previously expressed] conclusion that the only mandate stemming from the Padilla case is that deportation may not be treated as a collateral consequence outside the scope of the Sixth Amendment.” Continue reading →