Assemblymember Chiu Introduces Bill to Prevent Deportations Based on Invalid Convictions

Legislation would extend a post-conviction relief process to immigrants convicted by jury trials

For immediate release:

Sacramento, CA—Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) announced a bill today that would keep families together and prevent deportations based on old, invalid criminal convictions. AB 1259 would expand an existing post-conviction appeals process to immigrant defendants who were unaware of the immigration consequences of the charges levied against them and were convicted by jury trials. 

“We should not be tearing families apart and deporting individuals who have paid their debt to society after invalid convictions,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “This bill keeps families together, ensures the law is applied equally, and protects the constitutional right to a jury trial.”

In recent years, California has seen a number of high-profile cases of immigrants suddenly and unexpectedly transferred to ICE after serving lengthy periods of incarceration for criminal convictions. This is a result of current law in the United States that considers some crimes “deportable” offenses. This list of crimes that fall under this category is broad and includes many non-violent offenses.  

It is often the case that the person convicted of a deportable offense was unaware that the conviction could have adverse immigration consequences. Many immigrants had no idea that a conviction would result in mandatory immigration imprisonment and deportation, permanently separating families and blocking pathways to citizenship.

Current law holds that a conviction is legally invalid if a defendant is unaware of the adverse immigration consequences associated with the conviction, but for many years, there was no legal process to vacate these convictions. This left many people vulnerable to deportation and detention despite suffering an invalid conviction.

In 2016, Assembly Bill 813 was signed into law, creating a post-conviction relief process for a defendant to present evidence of a legal defect in their criminal case. The legal defect could include proof that the defendant failed to meaningfully understand the immigration consequences of pleading to a certain charge. However, this process is only available to those who enter into plea agreements, not those who pursue jury trials. 

AB 1259 would extend this post-conviction relief opportunity to those convicted by jury trials, ensuring the law is applied equally and people are not discouraged from exercising their constitutional right to a jury trial.  

The American Civil Liberties Union of California, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice, and Immigrant Legal Resource Center are cosponsoring AB 1259.

“AB 1259 offers a simple procedural change to an existing post-conviction remedy but its impact will be life-changing for immigrant community members that are currently locked out of California courts when they face deportation or barriers to naturalization due to old, invalid jury convictions,” said Jennie Pasquarella, Statewide Director of Immigrants’ Rights at the ACLU of Southern California.

“Penal Code 1473.7 has provided a critical life-saving tool to ensure that no person faces deportation based on an old, illegal, conviction,” said Rose Cahn, Senior Staff Attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “It’s time for California to take the final, simple step, to ensure that all people, including those with jury trial convictions, have a chance to present evidence that their old convictions violated the law. AB 1259 will open the doors of justice for people who have been shut out for far too long.”

AB 1259 is expected to be heard in an Assembly policy committee this spring.

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