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Client From Pakistan, Arson Conviction Vacated 1473.7

More than four years ago, in 2018, the Los Angeles City Fire Department arrested our client, then age 20, on suspicion of violating Penal Code §§ 451(b) and 451(d), both forms of felony arson.

At that time, our client had been in a relationship with a female, an international student like our client, with whom he shared an apartment.  Our client went out of town for a long weekend, but came back unannounced two days early, only to find his girlfriend naked in bed having sexual intercourse with another man.  Our client resolved not to explode in anger and instead, called the police, who came and, after some confusion over who was on the lease to the apartment, ordered the other man to leave.

Our client then went to the apartment kitchen to smoke a cigarette.  While using the electric stove to light his cigarette, and in a confused state of mind, he accidentally burned his Cardigan sweater as well as some items of clothing belonging to his girlfriend that were hanging nearby the stove.

Smoke alarms sounded as our client took the burning clothes to the bathroom tub and doused them with water.  The police then returned to the apartment and arrested our client for arson as he was putting out the fire he accidentally caused (that burned his own clothes).

Later in the year, with help from well-respected private counsel, the client entered a nolo contendere plea to an amended count, Count 3, a misdemeanor violation of Penal Code § 452(d), misdemeanor arson.  The two felony counts for violation of Penal Code §§ 451(b) and 451(d) were dismissed.

While this was a good result, avoiding the felonies, it was ironically much worse than just a felony, as such a conviction meant the client would be deported.

Our client was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the United States in 2017 under an F-1 visa, also known as a student visa, to attend a college for international students learning English.  At the time he entered his plea, he did not need an interpreter.  He also was not a U.S. citizen.

According to the docket, at the time he entered his plea, he was admonished that “if you are not a citizen, you are hereby advised that a conviction of the offense for which you have been charged will have the consequences of deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization pursuant to the laws of the United States.”  Prior to entering his plea, he never discussed his immigration status with anyone and did not know there were any immigration consequences from his plea to a misdemeanor that would affect him personally.  

Indeed, since he had been granted an F-1 visa and, six months earlier, had been convicted of a misdemeanor with no immigration consequences, he did not believe the immigration warnings applied to him in a misdemeanor case.

Moreover, he was too intimidated by his counsel to ask him for his time to answer any questions he had.  He therefore followed all his advice, which was to enter a nolo contendere plea to the Penal Code § 452(d) charge, trusting him that he knew what was best for him.

He was then sentenced to three years of summary probation with an obligation to attend fifty-two batterer’s classes.  He paid restitution in full prior to sentencing.  

Our client, age 24 in 2022, then came to Greg Hill & Associates, seeking to have his conviction in this case vacated under Penal Code § 1437.7(a)(1) because he planned to apply for his citizenship and would otherwise be denied citizenship with this conviction on his record.  He was now married to a U.S. citizen and hoped to start an import / export business to support his family.  With this conviction, he faced deportation back to Pakistan.  He lived in constant fear of being detained and then deported at any time.

Had our client known of the adverse immigration consequences of such a conviction before agreeing to enter a no lo contendere plea, he would not have voluntarily entered such a plea and would have instead told his attorney to continue negotiating for an immigration-neutral resolution such as to misdemeanor vandalism or proceed to trial.

Moreover, he had been in court and observed the judge give an immigration admonition to every person entering a plea, even those who appeared to be obvious U.S. citizens.  Our client regarded the admonition “script” the judge read as mandatory for the judge to give to each defendant entering a plea, regardless of whether it applied, and that it often did not apply to each defendant.  Our client did not believe it applied to him.  After all, the same script was read to him before he entered his plea in the DUI and no deportation proceedings followed.  

Therefore, not knowing there were any immigration consequences to him personally, our client entered his no lo contendere plea.  All he was concerned about, ironically, was staying out of jail, getting back to school to graduate and go on to business school.  The word “ironically” is used to emphasize that the immigration consequences of a plea, including deportation and exclusion, “may be more grave than the consequences that flow from the crime . . .” Kungyr v. United States (1988) 485 U.S. 759, 792, 108 S. Ct. 1537, 1557, 99 L. Ed. 2d 839.

The client explained these circumstances to Greg Hill and our office then prepared a motion to vacate the conviction under Penal Code § 1473.7(a)(1).  

The judge assigned to the motion expressed his strong skepticism for the client’s claim that he did not know the immigration consequences applied to him, so Greg focused on negotiating with the assigned district attorney to reach an immigration-neutral alternative, wherein the People would stipulate to vacate the conviction and our client would then enter into a plea to another violation, but with no immigration consequences.

Over the next six months, with one hearing per month, we were finally able to resolve the case for misdemeanor vandalism, Penal Code § 594, which was immigration-neutral.  Our client was extremely happy with this, as it meant he would not be deported back to Pakistan.  He could stay in the United States with his wife and concentrate on starting an import – export business.

For more information about motion to vacate issues when the immigration consequences of a conviction are not properly discussed with non-citizen defendant prior to entering the plea or going to trial (and then being convicted), please click on the following articles:
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