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Motion to Vacate Judgment

How to Vacate a Conviction - California Penal Code 1473.7 PC

A motion to vacate judgment is a written request for the court to overturn a criminal conviction. It is filed in California based on state law found at Penal Code 1473.7 PC. This law allows people that are no longer in custody to file a motion to vacate a judgment in a criminal case. The motion is primarily based on a few main issues.

First, a prejudicial error damaged a defendant's ability to reasonably understand, defend, or knowingly accept the adverse immigration consequences of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, known as “no contest.” Secondly, the motion could be based on newly discovered evidence of actual innocence.

Motion to Vacate Judgment – Penal Code 1473.7 PC

This law went into effect at the beginning of 2017. Before, individuals convicted of crimes that wanted to vacate their judgments mostly filed habeas corpus petitions.

The problem with habeas corpus petitions is that they are only available if the defendant is in custody. Once the defendant is released from custody, they cannot file a habeas petition.

Because of this, individuals who were released from custody had no legal avenue to request the court to vacate a conviction. This also led to immigration consequences for some as certain convictions can make a non-citizen deportable.

This led to deportations even when there was reason to overturn the original conviction because there was no way for the court to consider the case again. Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers will review this topic in more detail below in this article.

What are the Legal Reasons to Vacate a Judgment?

There are three main legal reasons why a judgment can be vacated under California law under Penal Code 1473.7, they include:

  • The conviction or sentence is legally invalid because of a prejudicial error in the proceedings. The error must have caused the defendant to have less ability to understand, defend against, or accept potential negative immigration consequences. If a conviction is found to be legally invalid, then it can result in a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel;
  • Newly discovered evidence is available that tends to prove the defendant's actual innocence;
  • The defendant was convicted or sentenced based on race, ethnicity, or national origin.

A prejudicial error includes violations by defense counsel that include failing to properly advise the defendant on potential immigration consequences and failing to seek a plea bargain to avoid immigration consequences.

To be prejudicial, an error must have damaged their ability to meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the adverse immigration consequences of a guilty plea.

A typical scenario includes a situation where defense counsel violated their duty to advise the defendant about the specific immigration consequences of a plea. Newly discovered evidence includes DNA evidence, another person claiming guilt, or widespread illegal activity by the police or crime lab.

A defendant can demonstrate that the proceedings prejudiced them if it's shown that an error harmed them in the case. If the defendant can show that they would not have pled guilty without the error or would not have rationally accepted a plea bargain, then prejudice is established.

All motions filed under Penal Code 1473.7 PC are entitled to a hearing before a judge.  You are not required to personally appear in court as long as your defense lawyer attends the hearing.

Is a Motion to Vacate Under PC 1473.7 the Only Option?

No, there are other ways to have a criminal conviction vacated; they include:

  • Appeals;
  • A plea withdrawal under Penal Code 1018 PC;
  • A drug conviction vacation under a deferred entry of judgment under Penal Code 1203.4 PC;
  • A sentence vacated under Penal Code 1016.5 PC if the court did not provide the defendant with adequate information about potential immigration consequences;
  • A dismissal in the interests of justice under Penal Code 1385 PC.

It is essential to understand all potential options to vacate a judgment if you face possible deportation due to a criminal conviction.

What are the Benefits of Getting a Conviction Vacated?

If a defendant is successful in their motion to vacate the judgment, then the conviction will be erased from the individual's criminal record. If a plea were entered, that plea would be withdrawn.

This does not mean that the case will be dismissed. The case will only be rejected if the prosecutor agrees to dismiss it. The prosecutor may offer a different plea deal or nothing, and the case will be set for trial.

Any time spent in custody will count as time served for the defendant if a plea is taken or a conviction of any kind results. If the defendant's motion to vacate is denied, then they have the right to appeal to a higher court. The prosecutor also has the right to appeal if the motion to vacate is granted.

When Can a Motion Vacate Judgment Be Filed?

A motion to vacate judgment must be filed with reasonable diligence after the later of:

  • The date when the individual is given notice of a date in immigration court due to the conviction or sentence; or
  • The date when a deportation order is finalized due to the conviction or sentence.

An individual does not have to wait until either of the two above circumstances. The individual can file a motion to vacate judgment while applying for an immigration benefit such as citizenship or permanent resident status.

When Can a Motion Vacate Judgment Be Filed?

The fundamental right supporting Penal Code 1473.7 PC is the right to counsel, guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article I, section 15 of the California Constitution. 

This right includes a guarantee that the defendant will receive effective representation. Put simply, PC 1473.7 allows someone facing deportation to vacate the conviction causing immigration issues if their lawyer failed to warn them about such consequences.  This usually occurs after they accept a plea bargain.

Eisner Gorin LLP is located in Los Angeles County and serves people throughout Southern California. You can contact us for an initial case consultation at (310) 328-3776 or fill out our contact form.

See related: Certification of Rehabilitation

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