Penal Code 1473.7 PC - Motion to Vacate Judgment
A wrongful conviction can have lasting consequences on a person's life, including imprisonment, fines, loss of employment opportunities, and damage to reputation.
Furthermore, a criminal conviction can lead to severe immigration consequences, such as deportation and denial of naturalization.
However, if you've been unjustly convicted of a crime in California, it is possible to file a motion to vacate judgment to overturn your conviction or sentence in certain situations.
This motion is codified under Penal Code 1473.7 PC. If the court grants this motion, the conviction and sentence will be erased from your record as if it never took place. In other words, a motion to vacate judgment is a written request for the court to overturn a criminal conviction.
This state law allows individuals no longer in custody to file a motion to vacate a judgment in a criminal case, primarily based on a few main issues.
First, an alleged prejudicial error damaged their ability to reasonably understand, defend, or knowingly accept the adverse immigration consequences of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere (no contest). Further, the motion could be solely based on newly discovered evidence of innocence.
Notably, before this 2016 law went into effect, the only way someone convicted of a crime could vacate their judgments was to file a habeas corpus petition.
One of the main problems with a habeas corpus petition was that they were only available when a defendant was in custody, meaning people released from custody had no legal avenue to request the court to vacate a conviction.
This caused deportations when there was no path to overturn the original conviction because the court could not reconsider the case. Let's review this state law in more detail below.
Background of PC 1473.7
The motion to vacate judgment was enacted in 2016 as part of Assembly Bill No. 813, which aimed to address the increasing awareness of the collateral consequences faced by non-citizen defendants with criminal convictions, especially regarding immigration.
As noted, before this legislation, the options for relief were limited and often inaccessible to non-citizens or those who had already completed their sentences.
Before 2017, the only way to overturn a conviction was through a habeas corpus motion, which could only be filed while the defendant was in jail. Once released, habeas corpus did not apply.
This left defendants with no recourse for overturning an unfair conviction after the fact—and it mainly left certain immigrants unfairly vulnerable to deportation with no tools to fight it.
The introduction of Penal Code 1473.7 PC expanded the grounds for filing a motion to vacate the judgment, making it possible for more individuals to challenge wrongful convictions and seek justice.
What Are the Legal Grounds and Requirements?
Under California Penal Code 1473.7 PC, provided you are “no longer in criminal custody,” you can file a motion to vacate the judgment based on any of the following grounds below.
A prejudicial error can include anything from prosecutor or juror misconduct to ineffective defense counsel.
PC 1473.7 refers explicitly to a prejudicial error that hurts your ability to “meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the actual or potential adverse immigration consequences of a conviction or sentence.”
In other words, you were wrongly guided to plead “guilty” or “no contest” to the charge because the courts or your attorney failed to make sure you understood the consequences that plea could have on your future, particularly your immigration status.
Newly discovered evidence
When filing a motion to vacate on these grounds, you are claiming the discovery of new evidence pointing to your innocence that was unknown or available at the time of the trial.
A conviction based on race or ethnicity
Under this argument, you claim that your conviction or sentence was illegally based on race, ethnicity, or national origin, violating Penal Code 745(a) PC.
To file a motion to vacate judgment, a defendant must submit a written request to the court, providing detailed information about the specific prejudicial error, newly discovered evidence, or racial motivation.
Additionally, the defendant must demonstrate that they exercised due diligence in discovering the error or new evidence and were unaware of it at the time of the trial. The burden of proof lies with the defendant, and the court will decide whether to grant or deny the motion based on the submitted evidence.
What is “Reasonable Diligence”
When filing a motion to vacate based on prejudicial error, you are expected to file promptly with “reasonable diligence” (i.e., without unnecessary delay) either after you receive notice to appear in immigration court regarding your conviction or after your removal order becomes final (whichever is later).
If you don't file your motion with reasonable diligence, the court may decide that your motion was “untimely filed” and deny the motion.
What Happens When a Motion to Vacate Judgment Is Filed?
After your attorney files a motion to vacate the judgment, the legal process typically follows these steps:
- Hearing: The court will schedule a hearing where you can present evidence and arguments to support your motion to vacate. You don't have to appear at this hearing—your attorney can present arguments on your behalf.
- Court's Decision: After considering the arguments and evidence presented, the judge will decide whether to grant or deny the motion. If the motion is granted, the judgment will be vacated, and the court may order a new trial, dismiss the charges, or impose other appropriate remedies. If the motion is denied, the original judgment will remain in place.
- Appeal: If the motion to vacate judgment is denied, you may have the option to appeal the decision to a higher court. The appellate court will then review the case to determine if errors were made during the lower court's decision-making process.
Am I Cleared of the Charges if the Motion to Vacate Is Granted?
Not necessarily. Vacating judgment effectively overturns the conviction and sentence and rolls your case back to the arraignment stage—the point at which you entered your plea of “guilty” or “no contest.”
The charges may be dismissed if the prosecution opts to drop the charges. If they do not, you'll enter a plea of “not guilty” and receive a new trial.
Suppose a defendant is successful in their motion to vacate the judgment. In that case, the conviction will be erased from their criminal record. If a plea were entered, then that plea would be withdrawn.
Notably, it does not mean that the case will be dismissed. Instead, it would only be rejected if the prosecutor agreed to dismiss it. A prosecutor might offer a different plea deal or nothing, and the case will be set for trial.
Suppose a defendant spent time spent in custody. In that case, it would count as time served if a plea is taken or a conviction of any kind results.
You can contact us for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, California.