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People v. Patterson

Supreme Court of California

March 27, 2017

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
RON DOUGLAS PATTERSON, Defendant and Appellant.

         Superior Court Riverside County, Nos. EE220540, Ct. App. 4/2 E060758 Helios (Joe) Hernandez Judge

          A. J. Kutchins for Defendant and Appellant.

          Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General, Kathleen A. Kenealy, Acting Attorney General, Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Julie L Garland, Assistant Attorney General, William M. Wood, Heather Crawford, Steven T. Oetting, A. Natasha Cortina and Meagan J. Beale, Deputy Attorneys General, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          Kruger, J.

         After pleading guilty to a drug possession charge, Ron Douglas Patterson, a Canadian citizen who has lived in the United States since his admission to this country in 1996, learned that the plea rendered him subject to mandatory deportation. Patterson filed a timely motion to withdraw the plea under Penal Code section 1018 on grounds of mistake or ignorance. The trial court denied the motion, concluding it was legally insufficient because Patterson had received the standard statutory advisement that a criminal conviction “may have the consequences of deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization pursuant to the laws of the United States.” (Pen. Code, § 1016.5, subd. (a).) The Court of Appeal affirmed.

         In People v. Superior Court(Giron) (1974) 11 Cal.3d 793, 798 (Giron), this court held that a defendant's ignorance that a guilty plea will render him deportable may constitute good cause to withdraw the plea under Penal Code section 1018. The question now before us is whether receipt of the standard statutory advisement that a criminal conviction “may” have adverse immigration consequences (Pen. Code, § 1016.5), bars a noncitizen defendant from seeking to withdraw a guilty plea on that basis. We conclude that the section 1016.5 advisement creates no such bar. We therefore reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remand to permit the trial court to determine whether, after considering all relevant factors, Patterson has shown good cause for withdrawing his plea.

         I.

         Patterson was charged in a nine-count complaint with evading a police officer (Veh. Code, § 2800.2); with sale or transportation of methamphetamine (Health & Saf. Code, § 11379, subd. (a)) and cocaine (id., § 11352, subd. (a)); and with possession of cocaine (id., § 11350, subd. (a)), morphine (ibid.), MDMA[1] (Health & Saf. Code, § 11377, subd. (a)), methamphetamine (ibid.), and PCP (ibid.). At a preliminary hearing on March 13, 2013, Patterson entered a negotiated plea of guilty to evading a peace officer and possession of MDMA, both felonies; on the prosecution's motion, the remaining counts were dismissed in the interests of justice. Patterson waived referral to probation and requested immediate sentencing. The trial court suspended imposition of sentence and placed Patterson on three years' formal probation, on conditions that included 180 days in custody (with credit for three days served), to be served in the work release program.

         Before entering his guilty plea, Patterson initialed and signed a plea form that stated, in accordance with Penal Code section 1016.5: “If I am not a citizen of the United States, I understand that this conviction may have the consequences of deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization pursuant to the laws of the United States.”[2] He also stated in court that he had reviewed the plea form with his attorney and had no questions. When asked by the court whether he understood “everything” on the plea form, Patterson replied that he did.

         Six months later, on September 13, 2013, Patterson, now represented by new counsel, filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea pursuant to Penal Code section 1018 (section 1018). That provision authorizes a court, “for a good cause shown, ” to permit a guilty plea to be withdrawn “at any time before judgment or within six months after an order granting probation is made if entry of judgment is suspended.” In his declaration in support of this motion, Patterson explained that he is a Canadian citizen and registered nurse who has lived and worked in the United States since 1996 on “a variety of non-immigrant visas.”. He sought to withdraw the plea because he had since learned the plea would render him subject to mandatory deportation from the United States.

         Patterson described the circumstances that led him to enter the plea as follows: At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution had made a “take-it-or-leave-it offer.” Patterson's defense counsel told him that she did not know what immigration consequences the plea would have, and she and Patterson tried to get in touch with Patterson's immigration lawyer, with whom Patterson had apparently never discussed his criminal case. When they were unsuccessful, Patterson's criminal defense attorney recommended that he take the offer, and Patterson “followed her advice.” Had he known that the convictions would result in his deportation, Patterson said, he “would have followed through with [his] plan to take the case to trial.”

         Patterson also supported his motion with a declaration by Stacy Tolchin, an attorney specializing in immigration law. The specialist summarized the immigration consequences of Patterson's guilty plea to a violation of Health and Safety Code section 11377, subdivision (a) as follows: “Mr. Patterson is subject to arrest at any time on deportation charges, the Immigration Judge has no authority to release him from mandatory ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] detention on bond or otherwise, and he is barred from obtaining the Lawful Permanent Resident status for which he is otherwise qualified.” She stated that if Patterson had consulted her before entering his plea, she would have recommended that he “absolutely not enter this disposition” and instead “attempt to enter a plea to a different disposition, that would be immigration neutral, yet give the court and prosecution equivalent convictions and sentences.”[3] She noted that Patterson has no prior arrests or convictions. The immigration specialist further stated that, if the prosecution had been unwilling to agree to a negotiated guilty plea to an immigration-neutral disposition, she would have recommended that Patterson take his case to trial.

         To demonstrate that Patterson had a triable case, the motion explained that all of the drug charges were based on substances found in an opaque closed container in Patterson's car, which, according to the motion, had been left there by a passenger a day and a half before Patterson's arrest. An unnamed witness had seen this person getting into the car with the container. The motion noted that a test of Patterson's blood at the time of his arrest was negative for drugs and alcohol. In his declaration, Patterson denied any clear recollection of the incident and denied that he knowingly possessed the drugs, explaining that the container in which they were found had been left in his car by a real estate broker. He attributed his erratic driving to an acute attack of hypoglycemia, a condition he has experienced on previous occasions.

         Finally, as evidence that Patterson was unaware of the specific immigration consequences of a guilty plea to possession of MDMA, Patterson submitted a letter his defense counsel wrote to the prosecutor. The letter, dated the day before Patterson entered his plea, described Patterson as a Canadian citizen and registered nurse who had been lawfully present in the United States on employment-based visas for many years, and who had strong professional and personal ties in the country. Counsel stated her belief that Patterson had viable defenses to all the charges against him, but she nevertheless proposed that he plead guilty to two felony violations of Health and Safety Code section 11377, for which he would be placed in a drug diversion program (Pen. Code, § 1000), and a misdemeanor violation of Vehicle Code section 2800.2, for which he would be placed on probation with conditions including service of 270 days in jail.

         The trial court denied Patterson's motion to withdraw his guilty plea on the ground that he had been advised, as required by Penal Code section 1016.5 (section 1016.5), that the conviction “may” have serious immigration consequences. The trial court stated that “[t]he question is what level of advisement is necessary for any of the items in the felony plea form to stand up, ” and that “the Legislature... passed 1016.5 so that there would be a specific language that had to be given to each person.” Although the court acknowledged that the federal immigration consequences of Patterson's plea “are disastrous, ” the court concluded that even if everything Patterson said in his papers was true, his motion was “legally insufficient” to permit Patterson to withdraw his plea. According to the ...


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