STATE v. EVANDRO P. LIMA, SC 19736
Judicial District of Waterbury
Criminal; Whether General Statutes § 54-1j (a) Requires that, Before Accepting a Guilty Plea from a Non-Citizen, the Court Ascertain Whether the Defendant has Discussed the Immigration Consequences of the Plea with Counsel. The defendant, who is not a United States citizen, was charged with conspiracy to commit larceny in the third degree. He entered a plea of guilty to the charge and, in canvassing the defendant before accepting his plea, the court asked the defendant whether he understood that, under federal law, his conviction of the state charge might result in his removal from the United States, exclusion from readmission to this country or the denial of naturalization. The defendant responded that he understood, and he was convicted on his plea. The defendant subsequently moved to withdraw his plea and that his conviction be vacated, arguing that the trial court failed to comply with General Statutes § 54-1j (a) in accepting his plea. Section 54-1j (a) provides that the trial court shall not accept a guilty plea from a non-citizen without first determining that the defendant understands that his conviction might have consequences of removal from the United States, exclusion from readmission or denial of naturalization. The statute also provides that “[i]f the defendant has not discussed these possible consequences with the defendant’s attorney, the court shall permit the defendant to do so prior to accepting the defendant’s plea.” The defendant argued that his conviction was invalid because the trial court failed to canvass him as to whether he had discussed the possible immigration consequences of his guilty plea with his attorney. The trial court denied the motion to vacate, concluding that § 54-1j (a) requires a court to make further inquiry into a defendant's discussions with his attorney only if the defendant has made some statement to the court suggesting that he does not understand the possible immigration consequences. The defendant appeals, claiming that the trial court failed to properly canvass him in accordance with § 54-1j (a). He claims that, while the language of § 54-1j (a) is ambiguous, the legislature intended to require a court to take affirmative steps during a plea canvass to ensure that a defendant has discussed the immigration consequences of a guilty plea with counsel.