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Failure to Warn of Mandatory Deportation Consequences

In 2014, Carlos Renan Manzanilla, while inebriated, got angry at his girlfriend, Kellie Wagner, who he lived with, and choked her, causing her to lose consciousness.  She apparently had driven his car without his consent, enraging him.  When she woke up, he hit her on her face and upper torso.

Warner escaped and called the police.  Police arrived and arrested Manzanilla, who is not a U.S. citizen.  He was a legal permanent resident (“green card” holder).

In a subsequent interview with police, Warner said Manzanilla pulled a knife on her, cut her on her forehead with the knife, threatened to kill her and left her laying on the bathroom floor soaked in her own urine.  Warner also reported that Manzanilla had previously stabbed her, requiring surgery. 

Manzanilla was charged by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, Lancaster Courthouse, with felony domestic violence in violation of Penal Code § 273.5(a).  He was represented by Deputy Public Defender Jodi Lin. 

There were three appearances where Lin was Manzanilla’s counsel of record, culminating in his plea on September 3, 2014.  Her notes from her meetings with Lin said nothing about his immigration status.

The People offered Manzanilla a plea to 273.5(a) with 365 days of county jail and five years of felony probation, batterer’s classes and a protective order.  Lin countered with six months and nine months of county jail, which were both rejected.  Manzanilla then accepted the 365 day offer.  Lin never countered for 364 days, which would have avoided mandatory deportation.

A conviction under 273.5 with a sentence of 365 days or longer carries more significant immigration consequences because the sentence of 365 days or more renders it an “aggravated felony.”  8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii) & (a)(2)(E)(i) [making a conviction for “a crime of violence” with a sentence of one year or more an aggravated felony]; Banuelos-Ayon v. Holder (9th Cir. 2010) 611 F.3d 1080, 1083 [holding section 273.5 is a “crime of violence”).

The notes do not indicate that Manzanilla understood he faced mandatory deportation.  He initialed a line next to a warning on the written plea form that he understood the immigration consequences of his plea will result in his deportation. 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(E) (a crime of domestic violence is deportable); United States v. Laurico-Yeno (9th Cir. 2010) 590 F.3d 818, 822 (section 273.5 is a domestic violence crime).

Mandatory removal from the United States is a consequence of being convicted of a crime deemed an aggravated felony under federal immigration law.  Moncrieffe v. Holder (2013) 569 U.S. 184, 187-188; 8 U.S.C. § 1228(c) [aggravated felon is “conclusively presumed” deportable].

Shortly after he entered his plea and while he was in jail, he sent a letter to the judge requesting to withdraw his plea, saying he wanted a misdemeanor based on the fact with a felony plea “he might be deported.”  The court denied the request, finding that Manzanilla had “buyer’s remorse.”

On May 10, 2021, Manzanilla moved to vacate his 2014 felony conviction by filing a motion under Penal Code § 1473.7(a)(1).  In support of his motion, he submitted a declaration, explaining how he was born in Mexico in 1961 and came to the United States in 1965 as a legal permanent resident.  He stated that he has lived in the United States ever since.  He attended elementary and high school in Venice and college in Santa Monica.  He had two children who were U.S. citizens.  His parents had passed away and all his siblings were U.S. citizens.

In the 1990’s, he started the process to become a U.S. citizen, but never finished. 

In 2018, as a result of violating his probation, he spent three years in state prison.  He was then transferred directly from state prison to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Bakersfield. 

Manzanilla said he would not have taken the plea if he knew it would result in his deportation.  He declared that “his whole life – my kids, my family – is here in the United States.”  He also stated he had no friends or family in Mexico.  He also stated that he was bisexual and that the last time he was in Mexico, in the 1990’s, he was assaulted by the Mexican Federal Police based on his sexual orientation when they found him with a man, leaving him with broken ribs, a black eye and other injuries.

He also stated that when he and Lin went over the plea in 2014, he had a hard time seeing because of his cataracts.  “She was standing over me and told me to hurry up.  She said it covered everything we talked about.  I initialed and she walked away with the form.”

Judge Daviann L. Mitchell was assigned the motion.  The parties opened the hearing by declaring that they had reached an agreement for Manzanilla to vacate his conviction and plea to an immigration-safe misdemeanor.  Judge Mitchell rejected the agreement and declaring that Manzanilla was not “a person that deserves a misdemeanor.”  She then denied the 1473.7 motion.

Manzanilla then appealed to the Second Appellate District in Los Angeles, which reversed Judge Mitchell.  Its opinion is a textbook example of what a motion to vacate should include.

The appellate court faulted the public defender by not advising Manzanilla that he faced near certain deportation.  Citing to Padilla v. Kentucky (2010) 559 U.S. 356, it noted that the right to remain in the United States can be more important than any potential jail sentence.  Id., at 368. 

The appellate court further commented that the only warning Manzanilla received that his plea would result in deportation was the Tahl form, which he initialed.  Regardless, in evaluating the Tahl form’s language, “the defendant can be expected to rely on counsel’s independent evaluation of the charges” rather than the generic statements in the Tahl waiver and the plea colloquy.  People v. Lopez (2021) 66 Cal. App. 5th at 577.  Even if counsel went over the Tahl form in detail and Manzanilla read every word of it, there is no evidence that defense counsel fulfilled her duty to give him specific advice he would be subject to mandatory deportation as a results of pleading no contest. 

In establishing prejudicial error, the appellate court found that Manzanilla did establish this under the four-factor test set forth in People v. Vivar (2021) 11 Cal. 5th 510.  What prejudicial error means is demonstrating that defendant would have rejected the plea if defendant had correctly understood its actual or potential immigration consequences.  Id. at 529.  
“When courts assess whether a petitioner has shown that reasonable probability, they consider the totality of the circumstances.  Factors particularly relevant to this inquiry include the defendant’s ties to the United States, the importance defendant placed on avoiding deportation, the defendant’s priorities in seeking a plea bargain, and whether the defendant had reason to believe an immigration-neutral disposition was possible.” 

For more information about Penal Code § 1473.7(a)(1), please click on the following articles:
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