Non-citizens, including lawful permanent residents, can experience profound immigration consequences for even minor or very old criminal convictions. Prior to 2017, California law only allowed defendants to challenge their conviction while they were in actual or constructive custody, i.e. parole or probation. As a result, countless people were left with no recourse and way of challenging their convictions. This gap has had a particularly devastating impact on the state’s immigrant community.
Throughout the years, many immigrants in California have entered a plea or have been convicted at trial, without being properly informed of the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction. And for most non-citizens, the immigration consequences of a conviction only come to light when they find themselves in immigration court facing deportation, which, in many instances, can be years after they had completed their criminal sentence. In most of those cases, the only way for a non-citizen to avoid deportation and to remain in the United States is to challenge their criminal conviction. However, because California law did not provide a post-conviction relief for people who were no longer in custody, many people have been unjustly deported, or at best, have been stuck in the backlogged immigration system for years.
Recognizing that there are a large number of immigrants in California who have already finished serving their sentences, but who have not received the proper legal advice about the impact their convictions could have on their immigration status, the California legislature enacted Assembly Bill 813, which was codified as PC 1473.7, and became effective on January 1, 2017. Essentially, the new law gave people who were no longer in custody the ability to challenge their criminal convictions and vacate their judgments. Initially, the law was limited to convictions that were the result of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere. However, in 2021, the state legislature passed AB 1259, which amended PC 1473.7. As a result, as of January 1, 2022, the law now also provides a post-conviction relief for non-citizens who were convicted at trial.