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State v. Lima

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

March 6, 2018

STATE OF CONNECTICUT
v.
EVANDRO M. LIMA

          Argued November 30, 2017

         Procedural History

         Information charging the defendant with the crime of conspiracy to commit larceny in the sixth degree, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Britain, geographical area number seventeen, where the defendant was presented to the court, Johnson, J., on a plea of guilty; judgment of guilty; thereafter, the court, Dyer, J., denied the defendant's motion to vacate the judgment and withdraw his plea, and the defendant appealed to this court. Reversed; further proceedings.

          Vishal K. Garg, for the appellant (defendant).

          Linda F. Currie-Zeffiro, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Brian Preleski, state's attorney, and Paul Rotiroti, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (state).

          Sheldon, Elgo and Mihalakos, Js.

          OPINION

          SHELDON, J.

         The defendant, Evandro M. Lima, appeals from the judgment of the trial court denying his motion to vacate his conviction following his guilty plea to one count of conspiracy to commit larceny in the sixth degree in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 and 53a-125b. The defendant claims that the trial court abused its discretion in denying his motion because, under General Statutes § 54-1j, [1] the court was required but failed to ask the defendant whether he understood the possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty before accepting his plea.[2] We agree with the defendant and reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following procedural history is relevant to our resolution of this appeal. On August 1, 2014, the defendant entered a plea of guilty under the Alford doctrine[3]to conspiracy to commit larceny in the sixth degree after he conspired with another individual to commit a shoplifting at Price Chopper in Southington. During the plea canvass, the court asked the defendant several questions, including whether he was under the influence of alcohol, drugs or any other medication. The defendant answered in the negative. The court also asked the defendant whether he had had enough time to discuss his case with his attorney and was satisfied with his attorney's advice; whether his attorney had reviewed with him all of the evidence that the state claimed that it had to prove his guilt; and whether his attorney had informed him of the maximum possible penalty he was facing in the event of conviction. The court also asked the defendant if he knew that by pleading guilty, he was giving up his right to have a trial, to require the state to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, to confront and cross-examine witnesses and to present his own witnesses and his own testimony. The defendant responded in the affirmative to all of the court's inquiries. The court then told the defendant: ‘‘If you are not a U.S. citizen, this conviction may result in your removal from the United States or deportation under federal law.'' The court followed that admonition with the question: ‘‘Has anyone forced or threatened you to enter your plea today?'' The defendant responded in the negative and affirmed that he was entering his plea of his own free will. The court asked the defendant: ‘‘[I]s there any reason why I shouldn't accept your plea?'' The defendant responded: ‘‘Not at all.'' The court found that the plea was ‘‘knowingly and voluntarily made with the assistance of competent counsel, '' and thus ordered that it be accepted.

         Thereafter, on August 11, 2015, pursuant to § 54-1j (a) and (c), the defendant filed a motion to vacate his conviction and withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that the trial court improperly failed to determine whether he understood the immigration consequences of his guilty plea and that he had discussed the possible immigration consequences of the plea with his attorney before entering it. The trial court denied the defendant's motion, concluding: ‘‘By advising the defendant in this case that his conviction for conspiracy to commit larceny could result in his removal or deportation from the United States under federal law, the trial court adequately and substantially warned the defendant that his immigration status could be adversely affected as a consequence of his decision to plead guilty. Although the trial court did not specifically inquire of the defendant if he understood the potential immigration consequences, the transcript reflects that the trial court did personally address the defendant, and that the defendant was satisfied with his counsel's representation. Specifically, the defendant told the court that he was ‘absolutely' satisfied with the representation that he received from his public defender. Additionally, subsequent to advising the defendant that his plea could result in his deportation or removal from the United States, the court asked the defendant if there was any reason why his plea should not be accepted. The defendant responded: ‘[N]ot at all.' Viewed in its entirety, the transcript indicates that the defendant understood the trial court's questions and remarks during the plea canvass. The court found the defendant's plea was knowingly and voluntarily made with the assistance of competent counsel. Implicit in that finding by the trial court is a determination that the defendant understood the court's warning about the possible immigration consequences of his guilty plea.'' The court then concluded that: ‘‘Based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the trial court substantially complied with the provisions of . . . § 54-1j when the defendant pleaded guilty and was sentenced on August 1, 2014.''

         On appeal, the defendant claims that the court erred in denying his motion to vacate the judgment on his guilty plea because the court failed to determine that he understood the possible immigration consequences of his guilty plea as required under § 54-1j (a).[4] We agree.

         ‘‘[A guilty] plea, once accepted, may be withdrawn only with the permission of the court. . . . The burden is always on the defendant to show a plausible reason for the withdrawal of a plea of guilty. . . . Whether such proof is made is a question for the court in its sound discretion, and a denial of permission to withdraw is reversible only if that discretion has been abused.'' (Citation omitted; footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Hall, 303 Conn. 527, 532-33, 35 A.3d 237 (2012).

         ‘‘Section 54-1j (a) provides that the court shall not accept a guilty plea without first addressing the defendant personally to ensure that he fully understands that, if he is not a United States citizen, his conviction may have certain enumerated immigration consequences under federal law, and, further, if the defendant has not discussed these possible consequences with his attorney, the court shall permit him to do so before accepting his plea offer. Section 54-1j (c) provides that, if the court fails to comply with the requirements of subsection (a), and the defendant can demonstrate that his conviction may have one of the enumerated immigration consequences, the court, upon motion of the defendant within three years of the plea, shall vacate the judgment and permit the defendant to withdraw his guilty plea and enter a plea of not guilty.

         ‘‘Thus, by its terms, [§] 54-1j (a) permits a court to accept a defendant's plea only if the court conducts a plea canvass during which . . . the court determines that the defendant understands fully the possible immigration consequences that may result from entering a plea . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) State v. Lima, 325 Conn. 623, 629, 159 A.3d 651 (2017). ‘‘[I]t [is] not necessary for the trial court to read the statute verbatim . . . [and, instead] only substantial compliance with the statute is ...


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