New Web-Based Tool Provides Window to View Consequences of Guilty Plea in New York

 Media Contact: Nancy Goldfarb, 212-854-1584 [email protected]

Public Affairs Office, 212-854-2650 [email protected]

New York, May 12, 2010—Criminal defendants in New York can find out the hard way that pleading guilty may be only the beginning of their trip through the legal system.
There are often additional consequences to a conviction–even for seemingly minor crimes–that can affect, among other things, a defendant’s immigrant status or eligibility for public housing.
However, defendants and their lawyers, along with prosecutors and judges, may not be aware of what those consequences are. Now, an innovative web-based tool developed by the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at Columbia Law School and the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) is aiming to change that. The Calculator will provide legal practitioners and judges in New York with an overview of the immigration and public housing eligibility consequences that attach to a guilty plea or conviction.
The Collateral Consequences Calculator is the first of its kind. Conrad Johnson, Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, said it can go a long way toward ensuring that fully informed choices are made by judges, prosecutors, defense counsel and policy makers.
“There’s simply too much to know, no one can hold all of the necessary information to accurately assess the consequences of a conviction in their head,” Johnson said.
Users can select a section of the penal code and examine the potential impact of convictions in New York on immigration status and public housing eligibility, two of the more-prevalent areas of consequences that arise from a conviction. Johnson—who reviewed the public housing eligibility consequences—expects to add other consequences to the Calculator as the program is expanded.
The immigration consequences are analyzed for the top 51 crimes in New York Penal Law that are either most commonly charged or carry consequences that are commonly misunderstood. The public housing eligibility consequences are analyzed for the entire Penal Law, but apply only to public housing in New York City.
There were more than 982,000 cases in state criminal courts in 2008 just in New York City. Most were disposed of through plea bargains, but often without the knowledge of what might happen next. But a recent Supreme Court decision may alter that landscape.
In Padilla v. Kentucky, the justices ruled that lawyers have a duty to advise their immigrant clients of the possibility of deportation if they plead guilty to a crime. In this case, Padilla’s lawyer had given him the wrong information about his immigration status.
“The Supreme Court has rung an alarm bell here. This is an important aspect of a criminal case,” said Manuel Vargas founder and senior counsel of the Immigration Defense Project, who reviewed the immigration information on the calculator and vetted its accuracy.
“In some cases, defendants plead guilty to a crime to avoid a longer sentence that might attach if the defendant stood trial. Information about the consequences of a guilty plea helps that defendant make an informed choice,” Vargas added.
The idea for the Calculator dates back to 2005, when Judith S. Kaye, then-New York’s chief judge, initiated the Partners in Justice program, which brought judges, lawyers, and educators together to collaborate on better ways to share information about social justice in the legal system. The program first looked at the problem of collateral consequences.
That led to a website developed by the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic that provided an extensive collection of resources about collateral consequences. Johnson, Mary Zulack, Director of Clinical Education, Brian Donnelly, Director of Educational Technology, and their students then began to look for ways to make that information easier to find and use. They approached CCNMTL, which partners with faculty to implement innovative technology solutions in education, and began developing the Calculator in 2006.
The Clinic uses digital technologies to reshape law practice and the legal profession. Students work with community groups, public-interest lawyers and members of the judiciary to increase access to justice and solve complex legal problems using technology.
CCNMTL plans to make the templates and programming code from the Calculator available to nonprofit and government organizations outside New York, to allow other state-specific calculators to be created
Kaye’s successor, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, has also been supportive of the program, calling the Calculator a “remarkable, innovative tool that will help defense counsel, prosecutors, and judges identify the often unseen but potentially devastating consequences of criminal charges against a defendant.”
Lippman said all of the work put into the calculator by Law School professors and students and CCNMTL represented a “tremendous achievement.”
The calculator can be viewed at
Note: Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic students and interns who have worked on the Calculator include: Shaun Campfield’07, Kerry Carroll’11, Harris Cohen’07, Ana Correa’10, Peter D’Angelo’11, Obianuju Enendu’07, Laura Fibiger’10, Marc Friedenberg’09, Sarah Harnett’08,
Conrad Johnson, IV’13, Diana Marter’08, Autumn Marton’10, David Mindell’10, Sarah Mullen’08, Edward Newton’10, Thomas Rosen’07, Woong Kyu Sung’07, Alexander Swartz’07, Andrei Voinigescu’10, Melody Wells’08, and Todd Wilkinson’10.
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