The case came out of San Mateo County Superior Court and involved the statutory interpretation of Penal Code section 1473.7, specifically when a motion to vacate could be raised in the trial court. The judge held the language of the statute necessitated that a final order of removal be established or a notice to appear in deportation proceedings.
The court of appeal ruled for appellant that such a reading was too restrictive and not the intent of the Legislature.
A brief summary of the case is as follows:
In 2002, Morales pleaded no contest to a drug offense. He served his sentence, voluntarily departed the U.S., and reentered the country. In 2017, while residing in the U.S., he moved to vacate this conviction under the newly enacted Penal Code section 1473.71, hoping to obtain legal status via a “U visa.” Morales contended that but for his conviction, his assistance in a 2009 law enforcement investigation would have made him eligible for that visa, and that he pleaded no contest only because of the ineffective assistance of his counsel, who failed to tell him his conviction would result in his deportation and inability to ever legally reenter the U.S.. The superior court denied his motion without prejudice based on its interpretation of section 1437(b), which addresses the timeliness and due diligence required of motions filed in the face of removal proceedings. The court of appeal reversed. The lower court ignored the plain terms of section 1473.7(a)(1); interpreting subdivision (b) to prevent noncitizens from seeking relief until and unless they are subject to removal proceedings would turn a provision about timeliness and due diligence into one that guarantees delay and renders section 1473.7 ineffectual in many cases.