Granting a Penal Code section 1473.7 motion to vacate a conviction and withdraw a plea does not require dismissal of the criminal complaint
People v. Vaca (Cal. Ct. App., Mar. 30, 2023, No. A164953) 2023 WL 2706473, at *1
Summary: Vaca successfully moved under Penal Code section 1473.7 to vacate his conviction and withdraw his no contest plea. He appealed from the trial court’s order denying his motion to dismiss the criminal complaint against him under the same statute. Vaca contends that, after the trial court granted his motion to vacate his conviction under section 1473.7, the statute required dismissal of the underlying criminal complaint filed against him. The Court of Appeal. disagreed and affirmed the court’s order.
Trial court proceedings and motion to vacate the conviction and withdraw the plea under Penal Code Section 1473.7
Vaca entered a plea of no contest to the two counts of violating Health & Safety Code section 11379, subdivision (a), and the court dismissed the remaining charges. The court placed Vaca on formal probation for three years with a 120-day jail sentence.
After completing probation, Vaca moved to vacate his conviction and withdraw his plea under section 1473.7. The court granted Vaca’s motion. Defense counsel invited the Court to dismiss under 1385 and moved to dismiss under 1473.7 and 1016.2. The court denied both of the requests under 1385 and 1016.2. It found defense has met its burden under 1473.7 but declined to dismiss. The court reinstated the amended complaint. Vaca appealed.
Section 1473.7 Does Not Require Dismissal of the Complaint
Vaca argues that section 1473.7 requires dismissal of the complaint against him. The Attorney General contends that section 1473.7 does not require dismissal of the criminal matter after a defendant successfully moves to vacate a conviction or sentence. The issue is one of statutory interpretation.
“ ‘In construing a statute, our role is to ascertain the Legislature’s intent so as to effectuate the purpose of the law. In determining intent, we must look first to the words of the statute because they are the most reliable indicator of legislative intent.’ ‘ “The words of the statute should be given their ordinary and usual meaning and should be construed in their statutory context.” ’ ‘If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, the plain meaning of the statute governs.’ ” (People v. Johnson (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 1093, 1108–1109.) “ ‘ “If, however, the language supports more than one reasonable construction, we may consider ‘a variety of extrinsic aids, including the ostensible objects to be achieved, the evils to be remedied, the legislative history, public policy, contemporaneous administrative construction, and the statutory scheme of which the statute is a part.’ Using these extrinsic aids, we ‘select the construction that comports most closely with the apparent intent of the Legislature, with a view to promoting rather than defeating the general purpose of the statute, and avoid an interpretation that would lead to absurd consequences.’ ” ’ ” (Id. at p. 1109.)
We need not look beyond section 1473.7’s plain language to determine that the statute does not require the dismissal Vaca seeks. Pertinent here, section 1473.7, subdivision (a)(1) authorizes “[a] person who is no longer in criminal custody” to file a motion to vacate a conviction or sentence on the ground that “[t]he conviction or sentence is legally invalid due to prejudicial error damaging the moving party’s ability to meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the actual or potential adverse immigration consequences of a conviction or sentence.” “The court shall grant the motion to vacate the conviction or sentence” if the moving party establishes a ground for relief by a preponderance of the evidence and shows “that the conviction or sentence being challenged is currently causing or has the potential to cause removal or the denial of an application for an immigration benefit, lawful status, or naturalization.” (§ 1473.7, subd. (e)(1).) “When ruling on a motion under paragraph (1) of subdivision (a), the only finding that the court is required to make is whether the conviction is legally invalid due to prejudicial error damaging the moving party’s ability to meaningfully understand, defend against, or knowingly accept the actual or potential adverse immigration consequences of a conviction or sentence.” (§ 1473.7, subd. (e)(4).) The statute instructs, “If the court grants the motion to vacate a conviction or sentence obtained through a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, the court shall allow the moving party to withdraw the plea.” (§ 1473.7, subd. (e)(3).)
Vaca’s interpretation of section 1473.7 would add to the statute a requirement that the trial court dismiss the charging document after granting the defendant’s motion to vacate his or her conviction or sentence and allowing the defendant to withdraw his or her plea. The Legislature said no such thing. “In construing a statute, we are ‘ “careful not to add requirements to those already supplied by the Legislature.” ’ [Citation.] ‘ “ ‘Where the words of the statute are clear, we may not add to or alter them to accomplish a purpose that does not appear on the face of the statute or from its legislative history.’ ” ’ ” (Kim v. Reins International California, Inc. (2020) 9 Cal.5th 73, 85, 259 Cal.Rptr.3d 769, 459 P.3d 1123.)
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