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United States v. Mathur, No. 11-6747

Decided: July 11, 2012

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Mathur’s motion to vacate his guilty plea based on the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Kentucky v. Padilla.  Mathur, an alien residing in the United States, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.  However, his lawyer failed to advise him that he may be deported as a result of that guilty plea.  In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court held, in Padilla, that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel requires lawyers advise their clients of such consequences, and Mathur timely filed a motion within one year of that decision to vacate his plea.

The relevant statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2255, requires that a motion be filed within one year of conviction, or within one year of a new right held retroactive by the Supreme Court.  In order for Mathur to take advantage of the limitations period, he must show that the Supreme Court recognized a new right, the right has been made retroactively applicable, and the motion was filed within one year of the date on which the Supreme Court recognized the right.  In determining whether the Supreme Court recognized a new right, the Fourth Circuit identified a split in the circuits.  The Third Circuit has held that Padilla did not announce a new rule, but the Seventh and Tenth Circuits have held it did.  Assuming without deciding that it did recognize a new right, the critical inquiry is whether it is retroactively applicable.  New rules of constitutional law are generally not retroactively applicable because of the importance of the finality of decision.  However, Mathur contends that this new rule is “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty” and without the procedure, “the likelihood of an accurate conviction is seriously diminished.”  The Fourth Circuit disagreed, highlighting the Supreme Court’s only retroactive application was based on the denial of representation by counsel.  The Padilla right does not affect the fact-finding process because a defendant is already willing to plead guilty, and information related to possible deportation does not cast serious doubt on the truthfulness of the defendant’s guilty plea.  Furthermore, other courts have not considered Padilla a new, retroactive right.  Therefore, the dismissal is affirmed.

Judge Niemeyer concurred, and wrote separately to highlight language within § 2255 that justifies dismissal of Mathur’s motion.

Full Opinion

-Jennifer Routh