In People v. Espinoza, the Supreme Court today orders the vacating of a non-citizen permanent resident’s 2004 conviction (related to methamphetamine manufacturing) that followed a “no contest” plea. The court holds that the defendant’s motion satisfied the requirements of Penal Code section 1473.7(a)(1), which allows relief if there’s been “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 guilty or nolo contendere.”

Federal immigration officials had seized the defendant’s permanent residence card when he returned from an international trip more than 10 years after his conviction.

The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Goodwin Liu applies the court’s “independent judgment” in agreement not only with the defendant, but also with the Attorney General. It analyzes factors stated in the court’s recent People v. Vivar (2021) 11 Cal.5th 510 decision (see here), and says a section 1473.7 moving party must show “that he did not meaningfully understand the immigration consequences of his plea . . . [and] that his misunderstanding constituted prejudicial error.”

Among other things, the court finds the defendant’s “deep and long-standing” ties to the U.S. and to his community “are undisputed and weigh in favor of finding that he would have considered immigration consequences to be of paramount concern in deciding whether to accept a plea agreement.” It also concludes that the defendant “has shown a reasonable probability that he would have rejected the plea and either gone to trial or sought a different, immigration-safe bargain if he had understood the consequences of the plea.”

The court reverses the Fifth District Court of Appeal’s unpublished opinion.


Deported defendant who won in the Supreme Court returns to the U.S.