People v. Mejia

Filed 6/26/19 CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT DIVISION THREE THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent, G056042 v. (Super. Ct. No. 93CF2691) FERNANDO VARGAS MEJIA, OPINION Defendant and Appellant. Appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Orange County, Cheri T. Pham, Judge. Reversed and remanded with directions. Martin Lijtmaer for Defendant and Appellant. Xavier Becerra, Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L. Garland, Assistant Attorney General, Natasha Cortina and Adrian R. Contreras, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent. * * * In 2016, the Legislature created a new law, which became effective in January 2017, allowing a person who is no longer in custody to file a motion to vacate a conviction because: “The conviction or sentence is legally invalid due to a prejudicial error damaging the moving party’s ability to meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the actual or potential adverse immigration consequences of a plea of 1 guilty or nolo contendere.” (Pen. Code, § 1473.7, subd. (a)(1), italics added.) Courts routinely interpreted the new statute to mean that in order to vacate a conviction, a person had to prove an ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) claim under well-established standards. (Strickland v. Washington (1984) 466 U.S. 668 (Strickland).) But effective January 2019, the Legislature clarified: “A finding of legal invalidity may, but need not, include a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel.” (§ 1473.7, subd. (a)(1), as amended by Stats. 2018, ch. 525, § 2.) In 1994, defendant Fernando Vargas Mejia pleaded guilty to three drug crimes; he is now facing adverse immigration consequences (mandatory deportation). In 2017, Mejia filed a section 1473.7 motion; the trial court denied the motion, finding Mejia did not prove an IAC claim. In 2018, Mejia filed a timely appeal. The Attorney General concedes the 2019 amendment to section 1473.7 is retroactive. We hold that to establish a “prejudicial error” under section 1473.7, a person need only show by a preponderance of the evidence: 1) he did not “meaningfully understand” or “knowingly accept” the actual or potential adverse immigration consequences of the plea; and 2) had he understood the consequences, it is reasonably probable he would have instead attempted to “defend against” the charges. We find that Mejia made such a showing. Thus, we reverse the trial court’s order denying Mejia’s section 1473.7 motion. On remand, we direct the court to allow Mejia to withdraw his 1994 guilty pleas. 1 Further undesignated statutory references will be to the Penal Code. 2 I FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY On September 16, 1993, the prosecution filed a three-count felony complaint alleging that Mejia had: 1) sold or transported cocaine; 2) possessed cocaine base for purposes of sales; and 3) possessed cocaine for purposes of sales. (Health & Saf. Code, §§ 11352, subd. (a), 11351.5, 11351.) On September 25, Mejia posted bail in the amount of $5,000.00. On September 28, 1993, there was a preliminary hearing. A Santa Ana police officer ...

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Source: All recent Immigration Decisions In All the U.S. Courts of Appeals