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Name: People v. Espinoza
Case #: E068282
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 09/28/2018
Summary

Trial court erred in denying defendant’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea because his counsel did not sufficiently advise him of the severe immigration consequences of the plea, which mandated removal. In 2012, Espinoza pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine for sale (Health & Saf. Code, § 11378) and was advised that this conviction may have immigration consequences. He was sentenced to 16 months prison in 2014 after admitting a probation violation. In January 2017, Espinoza filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea under the newly-enacted Penal Code section 1473.7. The trial court denied his motion, and he appealed. Held: Reversed. Section 1473.7 allows for withdrawal of a guilty plea if defendant suffered a prejudicial error damaging his ability to meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the actual or potential adverse immigration consequences of a guilty or no contest plea. Ineffective assistance of counsel that damages a defendant’s ability to meaningfully understand immigration consequences is established if the defendant can demonstrate that his counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms and that he was prejudiced by the performance. Here, Espinoza’s trial counsel testified at the hearing that he was not aware that possession for sale was an aggravated felony which mandated removal, he did not believe he attempted to negotiate a plea with better immigration consequences, and he could not specifically recall what advisements he discussed, although it was his practice to go over the advisements in the Tahl plea form. Counsel’s performance was clearly deficient under prevailing professional norms. Based on Espinoza’s testimony that he had resided in the country since he was four years old, was gainfully employed, and had family residing in the country, the court found that it was reasonably probable that he would have rejected any plea that would have mandated deportation, thereby establishing prejudice. The trial court’s order denying the motion was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court to allow Espinoza to withdraw his guilty plea.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/E068282.PDF