The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in People v. Vicente-Sontay on Wednesday, December 31, 2014.
Immigration—Ineffective Assistance of Counsel—Plea—Voluntary—Interpreter.
Defendant, an undocumented noncitizen of the United States, completed a federal I–9 employment-eligibility verification form and began work for a company in Greeley (employer). On his verification form, he used a Social Security card and Missouri identification card, claiming to be a U.S. citizen named Marco Antonio Perez. During a routine audit, an agent from the Department of Homeland Security confirmed an outstanding Florida warrant for tax fraud against Perez and notified the Greeley police of this warrant. Believing that they were arresting Perez, the police arrested defendant. Defendant then admitted his real name to the police and the fact that he had purchased a fraudulent Social Security card and Missouri identification card for $150. He pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation.
On appeal, defendant contended that the post-conviction court erred in rejecting his three ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The Court of Appeals disagreed. First, a suppression motion under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), even if successful, would not have altered the verdict had defendant proceeded to trial. Further, defendant failed to show that he would not have pleaded guilty had counsel properly investigated and pursued a suppression motion under the IRCA. Second, the immigration consequences of defendant’s conviction were not succinct, clear, or explicit. As a result, plea counsel was only required to advise defendant that his pending criminal charges may have carried a risk of adverse immigration consequences, which counsel did. Third, because defendant’s eligibility for such relief was unclear, plea counsel properly advised him that his conviction might carry a risk of adverse immigration consequences. Finally, the post-conviction court did not err in rejecting defendant’s claim of ineffective assistance based on counsel’s not obtaining a K’iche interpreter for him. Defendant spoke sufficient Spanish to engage in meaningful communications with his plea counsel (with the aid of Spanish interpreters) and to navigate the judicial system. The order was affirmed.