California’s new law, Penal Code § 1203.43, offers a new opportunity for some immigrants who are inadmissible or deportable for certain drug convictions.
Ever since 1997, first-time offenders with a minor drug conviction had the option to receive “deferred entry of judgment.” This was supposed to give lighter consequences and the chance to withdraw the plea after completing certain conditions. However, non-citizens soon learned that, contrary to their hopes and expectations, deferred entry of judgment did not prevent immigration consequences from attaching to their conviction.
The new law recognizes that thousands of non-citizens who accepted deferred entry of judgment were misinformed about the consequences and now declares those pleas legally invalid, giving those individuals an opportunity to apply for withdrawal of their guilty pleas.
Though this law is still new, many immigration practitioners believe that once the plea is withdrawn, it will no longer carry negative immigration consequences since it has been declared the result of a legal error. Of course, their criminal case will not disappear merely because the plea is withdrawn, but there would be a new opportunity to enter a plea to a less serious crime or to go to trial.
Every case is different. Anyone who ever plead guilty to a drug-related deferred entry of judgment case should become informed about this new law and the new possibilities it offers by seeking the advice of a qualified attorney.