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Appellate court vacates guilty plea, remands case

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In 2009, a Watsonville man entered a guilty plea to felony gun charges. The 37-year-old man is a Mexican immigrant married to a U.S. citizen. After entering the plea, the man learned that the conviction may lead to deportation. He attempted to withdraw his plea and was denied.

Last year the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in a separate case mandating that a criminal defense attorney has a duty to inform defendants of possible ramifications that a criminal conviction may have on the defendant's immigration status. On March 11, 2011, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Watsonville man's guilty pleas based upon the U.S. Supreme Court precedent.

The 37-year-old man's case has been remanded to the U.S. District Court in San Jose. The man has served nearly the entire balance of a two year prison sentence related to the original plea agreement. He reportedly was scheduled to be released from the sentence on May 10. Now the matter returns to the District Court for determination of whether the case will be retried.

If prosecutors pursue the case again in District Court and the matter results in a conviction, the Watsonville man may still face deportation in the future.

The matter originally arose on July 29, 2006. Law enforcement agencies responded to reports of a possible gang fight in Watsonville. The defendant was detained after Watsonville Police claimed they observed a sawed-off shotgun in the defendant's GMC Yukon.

The Watsonville man reportedly had a run-in with the law when he was a teenager in the early 1990s. The man was charged after the 2006 incident with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of an unregistered firearm.

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, "Supreme Court ruling provides basis for Watsonville man's appeal," Tovin Lapan 26 Mar 2011

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