SACRAMENTO–A bill by California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) to provide a means for people to challenge their invalid convictions was signed into law Wednesday by the Governor. The bill received unanimous support throughout the legislative process.
AB 813 will provide California criminal courts with a vehicle to review challenges to a conviction’s legal validity after custody has expired, potentially saving undocumented Californians from being deported if conviction of a minor crime was made when a defendant’s attorney failed to advise the defendant on the immigration consequences of their guilty plea. The bill does not guarantee an automatic reversal of the conviction, but an opportunity to present a case in front of a judge.
“This simple fix puts California in line with most of the country by ensuring there’s a process to vacate a conviction based on evidence of innocence or insufficient counsel,” said Gonzalez. “It’s an important way to make sure that expedience doesn’t close the door to true justice, and everyone has the opportunity to right previous mistakes.”
California lags far behind the rest of the country in its failure to provide its residents with a means of challenging unlawful convictions after their criminal sentences have been served. Forty-four states and the federal government all provide individuals with a way of challenging unjust convictions after criminal custody has ended. In California, however, individuals who gain access to evidence of actual innocence, or proof of a defect in the underlying criminal proceeding, have had no way to present this evidence before the court after criminal custody has expired.
This omission has a particularly devastating impact on California’s immigrant communities. Since 1987, California law has required defense counsel to inform noncitizen defendants about the immigration consequences of convictions. However, many defense attorneys still fail to do so. Many immigrants suffer convictions without having any idea that their criminal record will, at some point in the future, result in mandatory immigration imprisonment and deportation, permanently separating families.
While the criminal penalty for a conviction is clear, the immigration penalty can remain “invisible” until an encounter with the immigration system raises the issue. For many immigrants, the first time they learn of the immigration consequences of a conviction can occur years after they have successfully completed their criminal sentence when Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiates removal proceedings.