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Nebraska Supreme Court Grants Petition to Withdraw Guilty Pleas

In the case State of Nebraska v. Yuma, Yannick Yuma, a native of Zaire, was granted asylum in the U.S. in 2001. In 2009, he pled no contest to the misdemeanor charges of strangulation and domestic assault. He later petitioned for a common-law motion to withdraw his pleas and vacate his convictions. The district court denied his petition because he had already completed his sentence. Upon appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s decision.

Immigration law has tendrils that extend throughout the legal system. Removal proceedings are mandatory following no contest pleas to the charge of domestic assault. In State v. Yuma, the defendant was not properly informed by his attorney as to the consequences of his pleas and petitioned to reverse his pleas. As an immigration attorney, I recognize that the responsibility to properly inform a client as to the consequences of their legal decrees is of paramount importance.

At the time of his no contest pleas, Yuma had not been told that he would probably be deported afterwards. He based his petition to reverse his pleas on Padilla v. Kentucky, which states that parties must be provided effective assistance from legal counsel. Because his lawyer did not ask about his immigration status, Yuma was not aware that deportation was mandatory for non-citizens convicted of domestic citizens.

The district court determined that because Yuma had completed his sentences of two concurrent one year periods of incarceration through 273 days of time served, it had no jurisdiction over the petition. The district court did recognize that completion of sentence may have no bearing upon a Motion to Withdraw Plea, but it left that to appellate courts.

The Nebraska Supreme Court identified three methods to successfully withdraw a plea. Under the Nebraska Postconviction Act, a conviction may be vacated if the sentence violated the constitutional rights of the convicted. Under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 29-1819.02, a plea can be withdrawn if legal advisement has not been given and results in an immigration violation. Yuma did not qualify for either of these remedies because the judge had properly informed him that he could lose his legal non-citizen status. He also could not have utilized the Act, because he had never been a prisoner in custody under sentence.

Yuma did qualify under Padilla, which protects his constitutional right to counsel. Competent counsel is a right guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment. One of the features of competency is notifying clients about the potential for deportation. The Nebraska Supreme Court therefore directed the district court to take up Yuma’s petition and determine if his petition was timely and if his change of plea would correct a manifest injustice.

As an experienced practitioner of immigration law, I am always eager to learn how the justice system makes an adjudication. In State v. Yuma, the Nebraska Supreme Court provided the legal basis for a miscarriage of justice to be righted.

Lyttle Law Firm, PLLC, is committed to providing competent legal counsel that exceeds the standards demanded by the law. If you would like to discuss an immigration or family law case, please contact us at (512) 215-5225.

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