Despite mandatory language in her plea agreement that defendant “must expect” deportation if she was not a U.S. citizen, the evidence corroborated that defendant prejudicially did not meaningfully understand the consequences of her plea, requiring the trial court to grant her Penal Code section 1473.7 motion and vacate her convictions. In 2008, Curiel and her husband used the personal identification information and paycheck stub of a victim to purchase two vehicles. Curiel pleaded no contest to identity theft and other charges, in exchange for probation, community service, and no jail time. The plea stated that if she was not a U.S. citizen, she “must expect” that her plea “will result” in her “deportation, exclusion from admission or reentry to the United States, and denial of naturalization and amnesty.” In 2021, Curiel filed a motion to withdraw the plea and to vacate her convictions under section 1473.7, alleging she was not told whether there were any immigration consequences associated with her pleas. Her former attorney testified that he may have told her that if she avoided jail, she would have fewer chances of facing adverse immigration consequences. The trial court denied Curiel’s petition, relying on the mandatory statements in the plea form. She appealed. Held: Reversed. Applying independent review, the Court of Appeal concluded Curiel did not meaningfully understand the immigration consequences of her plea, and her misunderstanding constituted prejudicial error. The fact that Curiel initialed and signed the waiver did not absolve defense counsel of the duty to fully advise her of immigration consequences. The evidence corroborated that Curiel did not meaningfully understand the consequences of the plea. Additionally, Curiel’s deep ties to the United States, her lack of a criminal record, her undisputed role as the primary caregiver for her children, and the possibility of a plea bargain with less severe immigration consequences provide sufficient corroboration for her claim that she would have rejected the plea if she had meaningfully understood its adverse immigration consequences.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/B317814.PDF