Rogers v Williams, 420 Pa. Super. 396; 616 A.2d 1031 (Super 1992)
PA Underlying criminal defense
Student Contributor: Candice L. Deaner
Facts: Plaintiff attorneys brought suit against Defendant to collect balance of attorneys fees owed to them, and Defendant filed a counterclaim. Defendant was represented by Plaintiff attorneys, where client plead guilty to mail fraud. Defendant alleges she is innocent, that she pleaded guilty only because counsel advised her to. She asserts that she was never advised by counsel that she might be deported if she pleaded guilty. Summary judgment was granted dismissing her complaint, for failure to establish the necessary elements for a professional negligence cause of action.
Issue: Whether an attorney is required to advise a criminal defendant of the collateral consequences of a guilty plea.
Ruling: The Court held that in criminal matters, ordinary skill and professional competence do not require an attorney to advise a client of the collateral consequences of a guilty plea, including the possibility of deportation.
1) The three elements of a cause of action for legal malpractice are: (1) the employment of the attorney or other basis for his duty to act as an attorney; (2) the failure of the attorney to exercise ordinary skill and knowledge; and (3) that such negligence was the proximate cause of damage to the plaintiff
Counsel’s failure to advise the defendant of the collateral consequences of a guilty plea cannot rise to the level of constitutionally ineffective assistance.
The court held that a defendant’s incomplete awareness of collateral consequences of a guilty plea does not render that plea involuntary.
Lesson: In PA, An attorney does not have a duty to advise a criminal defendant of collateral consequences of a guilty plea, even if those consequences are as harsh as deportation. There are many collateral consequences of a guilty plea, such as loss of the right to vote, loss of employment etc. and it would not be practical to require an attorney to disclose all the possible effects of the guilty plea. An attorney is only required to advise their client of the direct consequences of their guilty plea.