Unfortunately, a conviction can result in other detrimental consequences beyond incarceration and hefty fines. For instance, if you are a non-citizen or alien, you could face negative immigration consequences like deportation, which can significantly affect your life. Also, a conviction will appear on your criminal record, making it challenging to find reliable employment or a place to live.
What can make matters worse is if you are experiencing these negative consequences due to a court's mistake. For instance, that could be possible if the judge failed to inform you of your constitutional rights before entering a "guilty" plea at the arraignment hearing.
Thankfully, there are several Penal Codes (PC) under which you can file a petition to vacate a conviction, including PC 1473.7 and PC 1018. While any person with a misdemeanor or felony conviction is eligible to file a motion to vacate a conviction, obtaining this post-conviction relief is a stressful and challenging legal process.
Hence, having a skilled and experienced attorney at every stage of this process is vital to provide you with the necessary legal guidance and advice for the best possible outcome. At Los Angeles Criminal Attorney, we can provide you with the aggressive legal representation you deserve to increase the odds of having your conviction vacated.
What it Means to Have Your Conviction Vacated
Generally speaking, to vacate or set aside a conviction or sentence means nullifying the court’s judgment on your case. In other words, when the court grants your petition to vacate a conviction, it will look as if your case's trial and judgment never occurred, but it does not mean your case is over.
The prosecutor presiding over your case could decide to drop it or send it back at the arraignment step to pursue the original charges. If the prosecutor decides to pursue the alleged charges against you, you should be ready for a possible retrial to determine whether the allegations you are up against are true.
That means you can work with your attorney to have the alleged charge dismissed or reduced to a lighter offense with less severe consequences upon conviction. However, the court will not grant your petition to vacate a sentence because you feel regretful about your plea choice or decision to hire an unqualified attorney.
The court will require you to provide proper evidence to prove you deserve this post-conviction relief based on the facts of your unique case. A reliable attorney can review your case to find legal reasons or grounds for justifying that you are an excellent candidate to have your conviction vacated.
Ways You Can Ask the Court to Vacate/Set Aside Your Conviction
If you are considering filing a motion to vacate a conviction, you must have valid and reasonable legal grounds. Without proper and viable reasons, requesting the court to vacate your conviction will be a waste of time. Below are two common ways to request the court to vacate your conviction or plea under Penal Code (PC) 1018 and 1473.7, respectively:
Motion to Vacate a Verdict Under PC 1018
PC 1018 is one of the Penal Codes under which you could qualify to have your conviction vacated. Also known as a plea withdrawal motion, a motion to vacate a verdict is a request to the court presiding over your case to allow you to take back or withdraw your "no contest" or "guilty" plea choice.
Generally speaking, courts rarely allow convicted defendants to withdraw or take back a plea choice unless your defense attorney can prove a good cause or legal ground for doing so. If the court grants your motion to withdraw a plea under PC 1018, the prosecutor could decide to drop the case or start it over again at the arraignment step.
When your charge starts at the arraignment step of the criminal justice system, you will rely on your attorney to help your fight for a favorable outcome. Below are various legal reasons or grounds that could be viable as a legal basis for vacating/setting aside a conviction under PC 1018:
Ineffective Assistance of Legal Counsel
According to the sixth amendment of the constitution, you have a legal right to adequate legal representation at every stage of the criminal process if you are under arrest for an alleged charge. If you have a conviction and you believe the conviction was due to ineffective assistance of legal counsel, you could have a legal ground to file a PC 1018 petition.
"Ineffective assistance of legal counsel" means your defense attorney did not act competently and reasonably under the existing professional norms. A claim of ineffective assistance of legal counsel could apply as a legal ground to have your conviction vacated.
Here are facts you must prove to the court to confirm that your attorney's legal assistance was ineffective for the best possible outcome on your PC 1018 petition:
Your Attorney's Performance Was Unreasonable Under Those Circumstances
While competent legal representation does not mean your attorney has to be the best, his/her performance must be reasonable under the usual and existing professional standards. In deciding whether or not your attorney was competent, the judge will consider the following factors:
- Court rules
- Ethical duties that your attorney must comply with
- Legal strategies your attorney adopted or used
- Available evidence
- Your behavior and education level
The Attorney's Performance Prejudiced Your Case's Outcome
After proving that your attorney's performance at any stage of the prosecution process was unreasonable, you must also show the court how his/her performance prejudiced your case's outcome.
Your defense attorney could prove this fact by arguing using proper evidence that there is a reasonable probability that the result of the criminal proceeding could be different if you had effective legal counsel.
You Were Subject to Coercion, Duress, or Fraud When You Entered Your Plea
You could also have a legal ground to file a PC 1018 petition if you can prove that your plea choice at the arraignment hearing was due to fraud, coercion, or any other force overreaching your free will and judgment. In addition, you can also prove "good cause" to have your conviction vacated by showing that you were threatened, lured, or coerced into entering a plea.
The court could consider this argument reasonable and viable to grant your PC PC 1018 petition if, for example:
- A co-defendant threatened to harm your family or relative when you fail or refuse to take responsibility for the offense.
- The judge improperly and unreasonably pressured you to take a plea deal.
- The arresting police officer threatened to retaliate against your loved ones unless you agree to plead guilty or accept the allegations you are facing are true at the arraignment hearing.
Generally speaking, a "guilty" or "no contest" plea obtained through coercion, inducement, or subtle threats is involuntary and could count as a legal ground to justify you deserve to have your conviction vacated.
You Did Not Have an Attorney at the Time of Your Plea Taking
If you did not have legal representation when taking your plea choice, you could qualify to have your conviction set aside under PC 1018. Your defense attorney can prove you deserve this post-conviction relief by arguing that you did not enter the "no contest" or "guilty" willingly, intelligently, and freely as required.
That means you were unaware and uninformed of the possible consequences you could face for your plea choice. However, there is no guarantee that the court will agree to vacate or set aside your conviction even if you did not have an attorney at the time of your plea taking.
For instance, that could be possible if it was your choice to represent yourself after the court informed you of your constitutional right to have an attorney represent your best interests. In that case, the court will not necessarily have to set aside your conviction.
Another scenario in which the court could grant your PC 1018 petition is if the judge presiding over your case did not ascertain whether you clearly understand your legal rights to have an attorney represent you. In that situation, even if you were financially incapable of hiring the services of a private attorney, the court could agree to withdraw your plea choice and vacate your conviction.
Similarly, if the judge did confirm to ensure you are aware and understand the possible consequences you could face for your plea choice, he/she could have to vacate your conviction.
You Did Not Understand the Repercussion of Your Plea
You could also qualify to withdraw your plea choice under PC 1018 if you did not understand the potential repercussion of your plea choice. For instance, when you enter a "no contest" or "guilty" plea under the presumption that you are aware of the possible consequences of your plea choice, only to realize later that your choice will result in unexpected consequences.
In that case, the court could allow you to withdraw your plea under PC 1018. However, you have to prove with clear evidence that it is substantially more likely you could not have entered a "no contest" or "guilty" plea if you were aware of the consequences of that plea choice. For instance, your attorney can argue that you were unaware that:
- A conviction will result in immigration consequences, like deportation.
- A guilty plea will cause a revocation or suspension of your professional license.
- A guilty plea will attract a jail time.
According to PC 1018, you must file a motion to withdraw a plea before your case's sentencing or within six (6) of your probationary sentence. Once this statute of limitations expires before doing so, you could lose your opportunity to petition the court to vacate your conviction.
Motion to Vacate a Conviction Under PC 1473.7
PC 1473.7 allows immigrants to file a motion to vacate a conviction or verdict in a criminal case as long as they are not in legal custody. Your defense attorney can file a motion to vacate a conviction under PC 1473.7 based on either of the following legal grounds:
A Prejudicial Error Affected Your Case's Outcome
PC 1473.7(a)(1) allows the court to vacate a criminal conviction if you can prove that your case had a prejudicial error that negatively affected its outcome. A prejudicial error can occur when the court makes a mistake about court procedures or the law.
For instance, at the arraignment hearing, the judge presiding over your case has a legal obligation to inform you about your legal rights and the possible consequences of the available plea choices. If you enter a guilty plea, you agree that the allegations you are up against are true.
That means the court can proceed to the sentencing phase, which could result in a jail term and other possible collateral consequences, including deportation if you are an alien.
If you were unaware or did not understand the possible consequences of your plea choice at the arraignment hearing, the court could have a legal reason to vacate your conviction or verdict under PC 1473.7. Other cases that convince the court to vacate your conviction based on a prejudicial error include:
- Your attorney violated his/her duty to investigate your criminal case and advise you about the potential immigration-related repercussions you could face for your plea choice.
- Your attorney failed to defend the potential immigration consequences of your plea choice by asking for a favorable plea bargain alternative.
You Have Newly Discovered Evidence that Can Help Prove Your Innocence
If newly discovered evidence that tends to prove your innocence is available, you could qualify to have your conviction vacated under PC 1473.7(a)(2). Newly discovered evidence is any evidence that could work in your favor at your initial trial, but the prosecutor or your attorney discovered it after your trial's conclusion or judgment. Examples of this evidence include:
- New forensic results, for example, DNA testing.
- Another person admitting the alleged offense's liability.
If the court finds this legal ground and argument reasonable to vacate your conviction, you could qualify for a new trial to fight for the best possible outcome on the alleged charge. In that case, your initial trial, which led to your conviction, will appear as if it never occurred.
When determining whether to grant your motion to vacate a conviction based on this legal ground, the court will consider the following factors:
- Whether the evidence is new.
- Whether your attorney could obtain the evidence before the conclusion of your trial.
- Whether the evidence would likely result in a favorable outcome on the alleged charge during a retrial.
- Whether the new evidence is corroborative or cumulative of the existing evidence.
Your Conviction Was Due to Racial Discrimination
According to PC 1473.7(a)(3), you could have a valid legal reason to have your conviction vacated if your attorney has convincing evidence to prove that your sentence was due to any of the following reasons:
- National origin.
Although PC 1473.7 does not have a deadline for filing a motion to vacate a conviction, you should file your motion with reasonable diligence or without undue delay. Typically, if you are considering filing a motion to vacate a conviction or verdict under PC 1473.7, you should do so after the following:
- The date of receiving a notice to show up in an immigration court based on your sentence or conviction.
- The date on which the removal or deportation order based on your unique sentence or conviction becomes final.
The specific legal ground your attorney will use to justify a vacation of conviction under PC 1473.7 will depend on your unique case facts. If you have a reliable attorney, he/she can prepare your PC 1473.7 petition on your behalf and attend the scheduled hearing to convince the court you deserve this post-conviction relief for a fresh start in your life.
Importance of Hiring an Attorney Before Filing Your Petition to Vacate a Conviction
To avoid possible conflicts of interest in your case, you should consider hiring a different attorney when seeking to have your conviction vacated. Here are the important reasons for hiring an attorney before filing your petition to vacate a conviction:
Your Attorney Will Investigate Your Case Afresh and Prepare Your PC 1473.7 Petition
A reliable attorney will scrutinize and investigate your case, including your arrest, trial, pretrial, and sentencing to find possible errors that could have led to your conviction. The attorney you will hire can also talk with witnesses of the alleged case, if any, to understand their version of events leading to your arrest.
If your attorney believes the court should vacate your conviction based on his/her evidence, he/she will prepare your PC 1473.7 petition and file it on your behalf.
Your Attorney Will be Your Legal Counsel and Voice in Court
Your defense attorney will educate you on your legal rights during your PC 1473.7 petition hearing for the best possible outcome on your case. If the court grants your PC 1473.7 petition, the prosecutor could drop your case or start again at the arraignment step.
In that case, your attorney will also ensure your plea choice at the arraignment hearing is favorable, depending on your case facts. If your case proceeds to trial, your attorney will also aggressively challenge the alleged charges for a favorable verdict, which could include a reduced charge with less severe consequences or case dismissal.
Your Attorney Will Help You Select Jurors to Make Your Case Judgment
If your attorney believes the jurors responsible for your conviction could be unfair or unbiased, he/she can help you seek to remove them from the juror panel for the best possible outcome. During the selection of different jurors, an experienced attorney will help you identify the potential jurors that could be helpful to your case to obtain a favorable outcome.
Your Options When the Court Denies Your Motion to Vacate a Conviction
Fortunately, filing a motion under PC 1473.7 or PC 1018 is not the only way to obtain the post-conviction relief you need to put your life back on track. Other ways you can challenge your conviction include (but are not limited) to the following:
Filing a Direct Appeal
Luckily, the appeal process allows defendants to appeal the court's decision on their petition to vacate a conviction. If your attorney can prove that the reason for your petition denial is a legal error or the judge abused his/her legal discretion, the appeal court could reverse the decision. When that happens, the judge will set aside your conviction or give you a chance to withdraw a plea.
Filing an Expungement Petition
Another way you can obtain post-conviction relief is by filing an expungement petition under PC 1203.4. The drawback of this approach is that you cannot qualify to expunge your conviction record until you complete your jail term or probation. Typically, any person could be eligible for an expungement under PC 1203.4 unless:
- You have a conviction for particular sex crimes against children.
- You currently have a new charge.
If the court grants your PC 1203.4 petition, an expungement will release you from several consequences and disabilities caused by a conviction. One main advantage of obtaining an expungement is that you can legally say you do not have a conviction when asked about your criminal history unless:
- When applying for a job as a peace or law enforcement officer.
- When applying for a position in a public office.
Find a Defense Attorney Near Me
While you can file a motion to vacate a conviction on your own, it is wise to consult an attorney to increase your chances of obtaining the best possible outcome on your petition. If setting aside a conviction is not the best choice for you, your attorney will explain other ways you challenge your conviction to obtain the relief you need.
Our skilled attorneys at Los Angeles Criminal Attorney will keenly investigate your case details to find viable legal grounds for seeking a vacation of conviction or sentence. We invite you to call us at 424-333-0943 for an obligation-free consultation with our credible and reliable attorneys to know your options for challenging a conviction for a fresh start in your life.