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Court Orders Plea Must Be Withdrawn

California v. Lopez Court: California Courts of Appeal, Docket: G059146 (Fourth Appellate District), Opinion Date: July 14, 2021. Defendant Sigifredo Zendejas Lopez (Lopez) brought a motion pursuant to California Penal Code section 1018 to vacate his 2019 guilty plea on three felony counts, one of which would have lead to almost certain deportation under federal law. Lopez, who was a lawful permanent resident of the United States at the time of his conviction, argued his retained trial counsel failed to provide accurate and affirmative advice about the immigration consequences of the proposed plea. Lopez’s trial counsel testified at the hearing on the motion that he was not aware of the specific immigration consequences of the individual charges Lopez was facing. Therefore, he could not have provided accurate and affirmative advice as to the consequences of a guilty plea to any particular count. Moreover, trial counsel testified that he tried to negotiate a plea bargain to one misdemeanor count, which was rejected by the prosecution. Had he known the immigration consequences of the specific felony counts, there was some possibility that he could have negotiated an immigration-neutral plea offer the prosecution was more likely to accept. But as he admitted, he did not know those consequences. The Court of Appeal determined Lopez was prejudiced by this course of events. He submitted evidence that he would have taken his chances at trial if he had known and fully understood the immigration consequences of the plea agreement trial counsel negotiated. Because Lopez was not accurately and affirmatively advised, and because there was not an effort to negotiate an acceptable plea bargain with the relevant immigration consequences in mind, the Court reversed the trial court’s order denying the motion to withdraw Lopez’s guilty plea in the interests of justice.

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