Immigrant’s 2001 California Misdemeanor Plea Deal Proves Harmful in Deportation Case

The outcome of a federal immigration case decided by the federal Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati might not seem, at first blush, like something that would matter to someone in California. In one recent case, however, the outcome was highly relevant to people here, especially those who may have been accused of certain crimes. In the federal case, the man’s previous guilty plea on a misdemeanor domestic battery charge in state court directly harmed his efforts to avoid deportation. The case’s conclusion points out how wide-ranging an impact criminal convictions, especially those involving domestic violence, can have. It is yet another good reason to make sure you have skilled California criminal defense counsel to advise you about the consequences of any plea deal decision you might consider making.

The man facing deportation, Sofonias, entered California from Mexico as an undocumented immigrant in January 2001. Later that year, following an incident between Sofonias and his girlfriend, police arrested the man for domestic battery. Sofonias agreed to plead guilty to violating Section 273.5 of the California Penal Code. In exchange for this guilty plea on a misdemeanor charge, he received a sentence of probation and suspended court costs of $300.

Sofonias and his girlfriend patched things up, got married, moved to Michigan, and welcomed a son in 2007. The man, in fact, had worked at the same restaurant in Michigan for eight years, from 2005 until 2013, when his California conviction came back to haunt him. In November of that year, immigration officers arrested Sofonias. Federal authorities designated the man for deportation.

A federal immigration judge refused to cancel Sofonias’ impending deportation. That judge concluded that, under federal law, a Section 273.5 domestic battery crime amounted to a “crime involving moral turpitude,” even if the conviction was only on a misdemeanor charge. The Board of Immigration Appeals upheld that ruling, concluding that Sofonias’ crime was a “crime of domestic violence,” so that meant that the man was not eligible for cancellation of his deportation.

Despite a multifaceted appeal to the Sixth Circuit, Sofonias still lost. The crime to which Sofonias pled guilty, and the charging document that accompanied his arrest, established that the criminal misconduct of which he was convicted was a crime of violence and was committed against a domestic partner. While the federal appeals judges in Cincinnati acknowledged that refusing to consider canceling Sofonias’ deportation simply because he pled guilty to a misdemeanor crime back in 2001 was “particularly harsh,” it was also the outcome required by the law.

The harsh outcome for this man and his family points out one very fundamental fact in stark detail:  all decisions made regarding criminal matters potentially have collateral impacts, especially when the crime alleged involves domestic violence. A conviction may affect your legal relationship with your children, your ability to own or possess firearms, your ability to hold certain jobs, and, as Sofonias’ case teaches, possibly even your ability to remain in this country. Always make sure that you have consulted with and retained experienced counsel whenever you are facing any type of criminal charges. The skilled San Francisco criminal defense lawyers at Uthman Law Office have been providing reliable service to our clients for many years. Attorney David Uthman has over 20 years of experience as a litigation attorney and almost a decade of experience as a police officer. Call us today at (415) 556-9200 to schedule your FREE initial consultation to get the help you need.

More blog posts:

The Risks You Take When You Handle Your DMV Driver’s License Suspension Case On Your Own Without a San Francisco Attorney, San Francisco Criminal Lawyer Blog, Feb. 16, 2018

The Difference Between Domestic Battery and Simple Battery in California, San Francisco Criminal Lawyer Blog, Feb. 6, 2018