Facing a criminal conviction is a challenging experience. The thought of spending time behind bars and paying hefty fines is nerve-wracking. Unfortunately, the consequences of a conviction will still impact your life long after you are released from jail or prison. Immigrants who face a conviction for certain offenses could face deportation or inadmissibility.

A conviction on your record can impact your ability to secure employment, housing, or apply for a professional license. Things get worse when you face these repercussions from a legal mistake in the criminal process. Fortunately, different ways are available to vacate your conviction

By filing a motion under PC 1473 or Penal Code 1018; you have the chance to restart the process and make more informed decisions. Although the opportunity to file these motions is available for most misdemeanor and felony defendants, the process can be challenging and stressful. Seeking legal guidance in your quest to set aside a conviction is critical.

At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we offer expert legal representation to all our clients seeking to vacate a conviction in Chula Vista, CA.

An Overview of Setting Aside or Vacating a Conviction in California

Vacating or setting aside your conviction means that the court's judgment regarding your case is nullified. When a judge vacates a judgment or conviction against you, the court system assumes the judgment against you never occurred. Any pleas you entered during your case are withdrawn, and your case starts with the filing of charges.

Vacating a conviction is different from dismissing your case. When your case is dismissed, the prosecution cannot refile the charges, and there is no chance you will face the criminal process for the same offense. On the other hand, setting aside a conviction may result in a new trial, or the court can move further to dismiss the case.

You can start the process of vacating your conviction by filing a timely motion with the court where you were convicted or sentenced. Depending on the type of motion you file, the law has guidelines on the period within which you should file your motion. If you seek to vacate your conviction, you will need valid grounds to file the motion.

A petition without legal backing will be denied. The following are options to vacate or set aside your conviction:

Motion to Vacate a Judgment

A motion to withdraw a plea or vacate a judgment is a legal document you file with the court in your criminal case. You can file a motion under California Penal Code 1018 for a chance to exchange your "guilty" or "no contest" plea for "not guilty." Additionally, you can file this motion if you were tried and the jury returned with a guilty verdict.

The court will only accept the motion to vacate a judgment if you submit it before sentencing in your case or within six months of serving your probation sentence. Sometimes, you can withdraw your plea even after you have been incarcerated. When you want your judgment vacated, your attorney will help you file a motion with the court.

A hearing is then scheduled where the prosecution and your defense team can discuss the matter before a judge. Some of the legal reasons for vacating a judgment under Penal Code 1018 include the following:

Ineffective Legal Guidance

Each defendant in California has the right to obtain legal representation. This means that you can hire and retain an attorney to guide you through your case. After your arrest, you are notified of this right. The court will appoint one if you cannot afford private legal guidance. If you believe your conviction resulted from ineffective legal guidance, you can file a motion to vacate the judgment.

Having incompetent legal guidance means your lawyer failed to act reasonably under professional norms. You can present the following arguments to ascertain that your legal counsel was ineffective:

  1. Your lawyer’s actions were unreasonable. Your lawyer's performance when handling your case must be credible and reasonable. Some factors that the court will consider when determining whether your lawyer was reasonable include the ethical duties with which the lawyer must comply, the available evidence in your case, and the court rules.
  2. The attorney’s performance caused prejudice in your case. After establishing that your lawyer's conduct was improper, you must establish how their performance affected your case. Your defense lawyer in the petition will work to show that the outcome of your case would have been different, given the evidence available for the case.

Lack of Legal Representation at Your Initial Trial

Every defendant is entitled to legal representation. A criminal defense attorney works to protect the defendant's rights and guide them in the right direction. Your lack of understanding of the law could have caused you to enter an unfavorable plea or give false information to the court.

A defendant who enters a plea without legal guidance is entitled to have their conviction vacated under Penal Code 1018. In your motion, you can argue that you never entered the plea freely or knowingly. Additionally, you can use your lack of full knowledge of the repercussions of your plea to convince the court to vacate your conviction.

You are a Victim of Duress, Coercion, or Fraud

You may have a legal basis to file a petition under California Penal Code 1018 by proving that your plea decision was coerced. This could be the case if another person threatened, coerced, or lured you into entering a plea that did not serve your interests. The court can accept this argument if:

  • A judge pressured you to take a deal you did not have time to consider.
  • Another defendant threatened you or your family members if you did not take the blame for the crime.
  • Threats and coercion from law enforcement officers caused you to accept liability for the crime.

Failure to Understand the Repercussions of the Plea you Entered

The court could allow you to withdraw your guilty plea if you did not understand the consequences. This argument is acceptable in your PC 1018 motion if there is evidence that you would not have entered the plea with knowledge of the potential consequences. Your lawyer can convince the court to vacate the conviction if you do not know the following facts:

  • A conviction for your crime could result in deportation or inadmissibility.
  • Your professional license could be revoked for entering a no-contest or guilty plea.
  • A guilty or no-contest plea will result in substantial jail time.

Your motion to vacate a judgment must be filed before you are sentenced or six months into your probation. Filing a motion after the expected time has elapsed could cause you to lose your right to have the conviction vacated.

Motion to Vacate Your Conviction

Under California Penal Code 1473.7, immigrants who are out of custody can petition the court to set aside their criminal conviction. Like PC 1018, you must have the legal grounds to file a successful motion under PC 1473.7. You must file the motion after receiving a notice to appear in immigration court or when your deportation order is finalized.

Bringing a motion with reasonable diligence means that you should file the motion without delay after discovering sufficient evidence to mandate the setting aside of your conviction. You do not have to wait for a notice to file the motion. You can do it alone when you seek neutralization or other forms of immigration relief.

You are entitled to a hearing when you file a motion to set aside your conviction. You can either attend this hearing or have your attorney attend it. If the court rules in your favor, you can withdraw the guilty or no contest and exchange it for "not guilty." Unless the prosecution or district attorney agrees to drop the charges against you, you must battle in court to avoid a conviction.

The following are legal grounds to file a Penal Code 1473.7 motion:

Vacating a Conviction Based on Prejudicial Errors

Under California PC 1473.7(a)(1), the court can vacate your conviction if there is evidence showing that there was an error in the prejudicial process. Additionally, it must be clear that this error impacted the outcome of your case. Prejudicial errors happen when the judge and prosecution make mistakes in the procedures in your case. For example, a judge in your case must inform you of the nature and consequences of entering a particular plea before the case proceeds.

Entering a guilty plea means that you accept the liability for the crime and will face penalties similar to those of a defendant found guilty by the jury. Entering a "no contest" plea, on the other hand, means that you do not wish to fight the charges. This makes it easy for the court to convict and punish you for the offense.

You have the right to file a motion to vacate your sentence if you have evidence proving your lack of understanding about your decision. When your conviction is vacated and you enter a "not guilty plea," you can present a defense to avoid a conviction. Other instances when your conviction could be vacated for prejudicial errors include:

  • Your lawyer violated their duty. A criminal defense attorney can violate your rights by failing to investigate your case thoroughly or failing to offer the necessary legal guidance on the potential consequences of your plea.
  • Your attorney did not offer an alternative plea to save you from deportation or inadmissibility

Discovery of new Evidence in your Case

Sometimes, the prosecution is quick to take your case to trial and convict you with minimal evidence discovered in the initial stages of a criminal case investigation. Therefore, it is common for your attorney to discover additional evidence about your case after you have been convicted and placed behind bars.

If the new evidence suggests that you could be innocent of the alleged crime, you can qualify for this type of post-conviction relief. New evidence that could change the course of your conviction includes:

  • Forensic results.
  • Confessions or witness testimony.

If the judge is satisfied with the new evidence you present, a new hearing is scheduled so you can fight the evidence with the additional materials. When deciding to set aside your criminal conviction, the judge may consider these factors:

  • Whether or not the evidence presented is new. Sometimes, the same evidence could be presented from different angles to support a motion under PC 143.7. Therefore, the court could review the evidence you presented to ensure it was not present in your initial hearing.
  • Whether or not your lawyer could have obtained this evidence before your trial ended. It is not uncommon for lawyers to withhold evidence in a criminal case. Therefore, your lawyer’s ability to have this evidence before your conviction affects the outcome of your motion to vacate the conviction.
  • Whether the additional evidence could affect the outcome of the case. New evidence will only prompt the court to vacate your conviction if it can change the case outcome.

Racial Discrimination Fueled Your Case Outcome

Your conviction can be vacated under PC 1473.7 if you present convincing evidence showing that the conviction resulted from discrimination based on your race. Religion or ethnicity

The specific argument that you will offer to convince the court to vacate your conviction will depend on the circumstances of your case and the strength of the evidence. Having a skilled criminal lawyer by your side is critical. Your lawyer will help you investigate the case and scrutinize all the stages of the case to identify any errors that could support your motion.

A knowledgeable attorney will also offer you the legal guidance you need to make informed decisions in the case. If you believe the jurors responsible for the conviction were biased, your attorney can petition the court to remove them from the panel for your best interests.

Motion Under Penal Code 1016.5

The courts in California must advise non-US citizens facing criminal charges in the state on the potential immigration consequences. The court’s failure to offer this advice could cause you to enter a no-contest plea, which would be detrimental to your immigration status.

In this case, you can ask the court to vacate your conviction. This acts as a form of relief from the immigration consequences. If you were set to be deported following the conviction, vacating your conviction gives you a chance to fight the charges afresh and avoid these immigration consequences.

There is no limited time within which you can file a motion under PC 1016.5. However, you must prove that the court failed to warn you appropriately about a vacation of your conviction.

What are the Benefits of Having Your Conviction Vacated?

When the court grants your petition to set aside a conviction, the conviction is erased from your criminal record. All misdemeanor and felony convictions go on your criminal record. Criminal records are public in California. Therefore, a person who performs a background check on you will find the conviction and can use it to discriminate against you.

When the conviction is set aside, the vacated conviction is removed from the record. This gives you a chance to fight and avoid the conviction. If your conviction resulted from a plea agreement, the court would set aside the plea. Under California law, a plea deal involves pleading guilty to a lesser charge to dismiss your original criminal charge.

However, setting aside a conviction does not mean your case is dismissed. The prosecution can offer an alternative plea or return your case to trial. If the case goes to trial a second time, you will need to work on the issues that caused you to file to have the first conviction set aside.

For example, if your reason for filing the petition was incompetent legal guidance, you must find a skilled criminal lawyer to ensure the issue does not arise again. If you face another conviction or enter a plea that requires you to spend time behind bars, the time you spend in custody will count as time served.

Other Legal Options When a Motion Set Aside your Conviction is Denied

Even when you have the legal reasons to file a motion setting aside your conviction, there is no guarantee that the court will grant your petition.

Fortunately, Penal Code 1473.7, Penal Code 1018, or Penal Code 1016.5 motions are not the only legal actions to avoid the consequences of a criminal conviction. Other ways to challenge the conviction in California include:

Appealing your Conviction

When you are arrested, charged, and convicted of a criminal offense in California, you have no obligation to accept the outcome of your case. An appeal is not a new trial, and the appeals court will not accept new evidence or testimony from witnesses. Instead, the appeals court judge will assess your case to determine whether a legal error impacted your rights in the case.

Once you have been found guilty by a jury, you have thirty to sixty days to file an appeal. The court will schedule a hearing after the appeals court judge has reviewed your case. If there is a substantial error in the judgment in your case, the appeals court can overturn the judgment made by the lower court.

However, if your appeal is denied and you are unsatisfied with the outcome of your case, you can petition for a rehearing. If the court overturns your conviction, you will avoid all the consequences of the conviction. Additionally, you will not have a criminal record.

Expunging Your Conviction

Another post-conviction relief you can explore to avoid the disabilities of your criminal conviction is expunging your record. Under California Penal Code 1203.4, expunging your criminal conviction will not erase the record or overturn the judgment. Instead, it will allow you to answer "no" when asked about past convictions.

Additionally, potential employers and landlords cannot legally discriminate against you based on an expunged conviction. Unlike vacating a criminal conviction or judgment, expungement is not available for all defendants. If you were convicted of a sex crime against a child or a violent felony like murder, you are ineligible for relief under Penal Code 1203.4.

When you seek to have your conviction vacated, you can file a petition six months into your probation sentence. In contrast, you must have completed your probation sentence before filing a petition to expunge your criminal conviction in California. If you are on probation or serving a sentence for another offense, the court will dismiss your petition.

The main benefit of expunging a conviction is that it carries fewer serious collateral consequences and social stigma. However, you must understand that the conviction will still appear on background checks and can be used by the court to enhance a sentence or conviction for subsequent criminal acts.

Find a Reliable Defense Lawyer Near Me

Any criminal conviction can have severe legal and collateral consequences. From incarceration to fines and a permanent criminal record, these ramifications can take a toll on your life. However, you can avoid these penalties by filing a motion to set aside your conviction. After you file your petition, the court will assess the facts of your case before deciding on the right course of action.

If the court agrees to vacate your conviction, you can challenge the charges for a more favorable outcome. Petitioning the court to set aside your conviction is lengthy since you must provide reasonable explanations for seeking post-conviction relief. Having a competent and experienced lawyer at every stage of this process is critical to respect your rights and securing a favorable outcome.

At Chula Vista Criminal Attorney, we understand a criminal conviction's impact on your life. We will offer you the guidance you need to file a petition to vacate your conviction in Chula Vista, CA, and follow through to ensure the petition is granted. Call us today at 619-877-6894 to discuss the details of your case.