The fact that defendant received the standard advisement regarding possible immigration consequences of a plea (Pen. Code, § 1016.5) did not bar him from moving to withdraw his plea based on adverse immigration consequences. Defendant, a Canadian citizen, pleaded guilty to drug possession charges that rendered him subject to mandatory removal from the United States. He filed a timely motion to withdraw his plea on the ground of mistake or ignorance that his plea rendered him deportable. The trial court denied the motion because it had advised him that a criminal conviction “may have the consequences of deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization.” (Pen. Code, § 1016.5) The Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court granted review. Held: Reversed. A trial court may permit a timely filed motion to withdraw a guilty plea for good cause shown. (Pen. Code, § 1018.) A defendant’s ignorance that his conviction will subject him to deportation may be good cause to withdraw a plea. Section 1016.5 requires the trial court to advise the defendant that a conviction may have immigration consequences; failure to do so is grounds for withdrawing the plea if the defendant shows that it may have adverse immigration consequences. However, the Legislature did not intend section 1016.5 to serve as a categorical bar to the withdrawal of a plea based on ignorance or mistake. Here, defendant’s attorney did not investigate the immigration consequences of the plea. Further, defendant asserts that, had he been aware that his conviction would result in mandatory removal, he would not have entered the plea. The trial court erred by finding that, even if defendant was ignorant of the actual immigration consequences of conviction, he could not show good cause to withdraw his plea because he received the standard immigration advice.
In the event the trial court denies defendant’s motion to withdraw his plea, the merits of his habeas petition alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel must be resolved. While defendant’s appeal was pending, he filed a habeas corpus petition alleging that trial counsel’s failure to advise him that his plea would result in his deportation and to attempt to negotiate an immigration-neutral disposition, denied him the effective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment. He further alleged he would not have entered the plea had he received accurate immigration advice. The trial court denied the petition without issuing an order to show cause or conducting an evidentiary hearing. The California Supreme Court transferred defendant’s habeas petition to the superior court with directions to consider it if it denies his motion to withdraw the plea. [Editor’s Note: Currently pending in the U.S. Supreme Court is Lee v. United States (6th Cir. 2016) 825 F.3d 311, which presents the following question: “[w]hether it is always irrational for a defendant to reject a plea offer notwithstanding strong evidence of guilt when the plea would result in mandatory and permanent deportation.”]
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S225193.PDF