California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is promoting her AB 813, the Criminal Procedure: Post-Conviction Relief bill, which could vacate the convictions of certain illegal immigrants. According to Gonzalez and her supporters, which include the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the American Civil Liberties Union, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, “a bizarre and unique loophole” in California’s criminal procedure law prevents some aliens from holding their defense counsel responsible for their convictions. In California, a perpetrator must currently be in criminal custody to claim ineffective counsel.
|Deporting, not coddling, should be top priority.|
Once an offender has completed his sentence, he can no longer challenge his old conviction even with evidence of his innocence. According to Gonzalez, who was instrumental in helping to pass AB 1024, the law that allows aliens to practice law, California is one of only six states that doesn’t give nonincarcerated individuals an option to challenge the legal validity of an old conviction.
Gonzalez is focused on how illegal immigrants may, in her opinion, suffer unduly from the current system. Case law requires defense counsel to advise noncitizens of the immigration consequences of admitting guilt. Too often, Gonzalez alleges, aliens don’t learn of their defense counsel’s failures until Immigration Customs and Enforcement initiates removal proceedings against them.
Accordingly, on May 18, the Assembly passed AB 813, and it was ordered to the Senate Public Safety Committee. After the five-time deported and seven-time convicted illegal immigrant Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez murdered Kate Steinle, Gonzalez canceled a July 7 hearing and plans to advance AB 813 next year. In her written statement, Gonzalez said: "Even though the solution we are seeking in AB 813 and the travesty that occurred in San Francisco have nothing to do with each other, it's not a good time to pursue this bill." Gonzalez plans to advance AB 813 next year.
But Gonzalez is wrong. As the Steinle case proved, criminal aliens pose a grave danger to communities and heighten public safety risks. Given the favorable inclination toward illegal immigrants in California courts, AB 813 will certainly result in many convictions vacated.
More important, AB 813 overlooks the obvious – that illegal entry should result in removal. Nonenforcement has cost too many innocent Americans their lives.