August 21, 2017

Colorado Court of Appeals: Facts, If True, Would Establish Justifiable or Excusable Neglect

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Torres on Thursday, November 17, 2016.

Guilty Plea—Immigration Status—Post-Conviction Motion—Statutory Time Bar—Justifiable Excuse—Excusable Neglect.

Chavez-Torres is a citizen of Mexico who came to the United States with his family when he was a child. While in high school, Chavez-Torres pleaded guilty to first degree criminal trespass. The trial court sentenced him to probation, which he successfully completed.

Seventeen years after his criminal trespass conviction, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings, alleging that Chavez-Torres was not legally present in the United States and had been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude. Chavez-Torres moved for post-conviction relief from his criminal trespass conviction under Crim. P. 35(c) based on ineffective assistance of counsel. He alleged that he had informed his plea counsel that he was not a U.S. citizen but counsel advised him to accept the plea agreement without telling him that the guilty plea carried a risk of adverse immigration consequences. He claimed that had he been properly advised he would have insisted on going to trial. He asserted that as a result, his plea and conviction were constitutionally infirm. While acknowledging that his post-conviction motion was untimely, he alleged that these circumstances amount to justifiable excuse or excusable neglect. The trial court denied the motion as untimely, finding that the prejudice to the state would be too great, given the passage of time, and that he failed to assert facts amounting to justifiable excuse or excusable neglect.

On appeal, Chavez-Torres contended that the district court erred in summarily denying his post-conviction motion based on the statutory time bar because he asserted facts that, if true, would establish justifiable excuse or excusable neglect. Here, even though Chavez-Torres had informed plea counsel that he was not a citizen of the United States, counsel had advised him to accept the plea agreement without telling him that the guilty plea carried a risk of adverse immigration consequences. Chavez-Torres subsequently completed his probation and did not learn that his conviction had adverse immigration consequences until the removal proceedings were initiated. Under these circumstances, it cannot be concluded, as a matter of law, that justifiable excuse or excusable neglect did not exist.

Defendant also argued that the finding that the State would suffer “great” prejudice has no record support. The Colorado Court of Appeals determined that the existing record does not support the district court’s finding that the state will suffer great prejudice.

The order denying the post-conviction motion was reversed and the case was remanded to the district court to determine whether Chavez-Torres has established justifiable excuse or excusable neglect for his untimely post-conviction motion. If he can, the court must then consider the merits of his post-conviction motion.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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