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Prejudicial Error: Denial of Motion to Challenge Deportation-based Conviction

California v. Alatorre Docket: D077894 (Fourth Appellate District), Opinion Date: October 22, 2021. In the mid-2000s, Carlos Argenis Figueroa Alatorre was working as a car salesperson when he lost his job. Although he knew his brother-in-law, Luis, was involved in something unsavory, Alatorre began working for him, acting as a lookout and a driver for about two months before the United States Department of Justice closed in on Luis’s drug importation ring, arresting Alatorre along with several others at a border patrol checkpoint. In the wake of the arrest, Alatorre was forthcoming about his involvement. He had already been in jail for a year and a half, awaiting his trial, when he was offered a plea deal that would allow him to be released from custody with credit for time served. So in 2008, at the age of 24, he pleaded guilty to his first and only criminal charge: conspiracy to possess cocaine for sale. Alatorre did not know this conviction would render him immediately deportable. He had come to the United States from Mexico when he was just four years old, and lived here as a permanent resident. In 2011, three years after his plea, he attempted to become a naturalized citizen, which had the unintended consequence of alerting immigration authorities to his criminal conviction. Within a few months, he was deported to Mexico. Alatorre lived in Mexicali after that, taking any available work he could find. Although his children, who are both U.S. citizens, were usually able visit him on the weekends, he was separated from his wife and children, parents, four siblings, and dozens of nieces, nephews, and cousins—all of whom lived in the U.S. In early 2020, Alatorre moved to vacate his conviction, only to have the trial court deny it as untimely based on a finding that he did not exercise “reasonable diligence” to become aware of the existence of the statutory remedy after the law became effective. The question posed by this case was how a petitioner’s “reasonable diligence” should be evaluated when the ripening of an unexpected immigration consequence predates the creation of an avenue of relief. After considering the text, history, and purpose of Penal Code section 1473.7, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s ruling, finding that it applied an incorrect legal standard when it assumed Alatorre was obligated to learn about section 1473.7 starting in January 2017, when the section became effective. As to the merits of his request, the Court found he established prejudicial error within the meaning of section 1473.7, and remanded to the trial court with instructions to issue an order granting the motion.


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