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Prejudice Established: Immigration Consequences re: Plea Agreement

California v. Soto Docket: C092015 (Third Appellate District), Opinion Date: June 6, 2022. During a traffic stop in September 2009, police searched defendant Manual Soto and found 29.9 grams of methamphetamine in his breast pocket. According to the officer who arrested him, defendant stated he was to receive $200 for delivering the drugs on behalf of another person. A probation report noted defendant had never attended school, was illiterate in English and spoke it poorly, and was subject to an immigration hold as a noncitizen. Defendant was charged with drug possession and transportation charges, in addition to driving without a license. Pursuant to a plea negotiation, defendant initialed and signed a waiver of rights and plea form, in which he indicated his understanding that, as a noncitizen, his plea “may cause my deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States and denial of citizenship or naturalization pursuant to the laws of the United States.” He also initialed the following line on the form: “I read and understand the English language.” Defendant’s attorney signed an acknowledgement on the form stating, among other things, he had “explained the consequences of this plea” to his client. A Spanish interpreter signed an acknowledgement on the form stating she was duly sworn, had translated the form to defendant, and that defendant indicated he understood its contents. He appealed the trial court’s denial of his 2020 motion to vacate his 2010 drug trafficking conviction, claiming he would have rejected the plea had he correctly understood its actual immigration consequences. Defendant contended his conviction was invalid due to prejudicial error. Applying its independent judgment, the Court of Appeal concluded, based on the totality of the circumstances, it was reasonably probable defendant would have rejected the plea had he correctly understood its actual immigration consequences. Therefore, defendant established prejudice. The trial court's order denying the section 1473.7 motion was reversed and the matter remanded with directions to grant the motion and vacate the conviction.

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