Thursday, January 26, 2023

California Supreme Court Decides People v. Espinoza: Important Ruling Addresses California Penal Code 1473.7

Today the California Supreme Court issued an opinion in People v. Espinoza. A copy of the decision is available here.

The decision, authored by Justice Goodwin image from calmatters.orgLiu, addresses a motion to vacate a conviction filed pursuant to Penal Code section 1473.7, a provision that allows noncitizens who have served their sentences to vacate a conviction if they can show it is “legally invalid due to prejudicial error damaging [their] ability to meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the actual or potential adverse immigration consequences of a conviction or sentence.”

Juventino Espinoza moved to vacate his 2004 plea bargain, arguing that he was not informed by his counsel of the immigration consequences of the conviction. Instead, the attorney's assistant told Espinoza that if he plead no contest "everything was going to be fine."

On review, the California Supreme Court considered the following question: “Did the Court of Appeal err in ruling that defendant failed to adequately corroborate his claim that immigration consequences were a paramount concern and thus that he could not demonstrate prejudice within the meaning of Penal Code section 1473.7?” 

In reversing, the Court held that Espinoza did make such a showing. First, the Court found that Mr. Espinoza established that he "did not meaningfully understand the immigration consequences of his plea." The fact that the trial court provided a general advisement under 1016.5 did not alter this conclusion.

Second, the Court concluded that defendants moving to vacate their convictions must provide “objective evidence” showing that they would have behaved differently if they had meaningfully understood the immigration consequence. Here, the Court found that the totality of the circumstances must be evaluated, and that "[o]bjective evidence includes facts provided by
declarations, contemporaneous documentation of the defendant’s immigration concerns or interactions with counsel, and evidence of the charges the defendant faced." Evidence such as ties to the United States, "community involvement following his conviction" and "a declaration from an immigration law expert explaining that he could have pleaded to alternative, immigration-safe dispositions" therefore should have been considered. Another factor, the Court explained, "is whether alternative, immigration-safe dispositions were available at the time of the defendant's plea."

A number of members of our immprof community were involved in this case as amici, including the Stanford Law School Immigrants' Right Clinic, The University of California Davis Immigration Clinic, and the University of California Irvine Criminal Justice and Immigrant Rights Clinic.


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