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Man who admitted to threatening two men with a gun is allowed to withdraw plea because judge didn't adequately explain that would likely mean he'd be deported, court rules

A man facing deportation to his native Haiti after pleading guilty to threatening two men with a gun in Dorchester in 2016 can withdraw his plea because the judge in the case didn't adequately explain that a conviction would likely result in deportation, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled today.

The ruling does not mean that Denver Petit-Homme simply walks. By withdrawing his plea, that frees the Suffolk County District Attorney's office to bring him to trial on the charges.

Petit-Homme had agreed to plead guilty to four counts, including assault with a dangerous weapon, for an incident on Aug. 6, 2016 at Washington and Bowdoin streets in Dorchester, in which he agreed he got out of a car, went up to two men standing there, showed them a gun in his waistband and threatened to kill them both.

On Jan. 10, 2017, a judge continued his case without a finding, which meant the charges would be expunged from his record should he stay out of trouble for three years. But on March 18, 2017, he was arrested on a charge of assault and battery on a police officer on Allstate Road. On April 13, Homeland Security filed a notice that it was starting deportation procedings. On June 13, the judge found he had violated his Dorchester probation and sentenced him to two years in jail.

He then sought to withdraw his guilty plea, but the judge last year denied his request.

At issue in his appeal is whether he was fully informed during his plea hearing - at which he falsely claimed to have been born in the US - about the immigration implications of a criminal conviction for the 2016 incident.

As required by state law, the judge informed him that he faced potential immigration issues should he have a criminal conviction placed on his record. But in its ruling today, the state's highest court said that even though Petit-Homme said he understood what the judge was saying, and that his lawyer had explained it to him, the judge used an overly technical explanation and did not fully state what would happen should Petit-Homme admit guilt and then violate parole.

The Court: And sir, I have to advise you, like I have to advise everybody: if you are not a citizen of the United States and the crime admitted to is one that presumptively mandates removal from the United States, and the federal officials decide to seek removal, acceptance by this Court of your admission will make it practically inevitable that this admission will result in deportation, exclusion from admission or denial of naturalization under the laws of the United States; do you understand, sir?

Mr. Petit-Homme: Yes.

The justices said this just wasn't enough, and that the judge should have gone further in explaining the immigration consequences:

Given the complexity of Federal immigration law, the offense-specific warning provided to the defendant in the instant case is confusing, and it is neither equivalent to, nor an adequate substitute for, the more general advisory that [the state law], entitles every criminal defendant to receive.

The court continued:

Apart from approximating only one-half of the immigration advisory language required by [Massachusetts court rules], the warning given to the defendant here does not equate to a plain statement of three specific immigration consequences that "may" occur, as the Legislature prescribed. Instead, the defendant was told that certain crimes "presumptively mandate[] removal" and would make immigration consequences "practically inevitable" -- but without receiving any indication whether the defendant's own offenses (assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and threat to commit a crime) constitute that type of crime.

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Comments

How much clearer can one be?
The Massachusetts judicial system never fails to amaze me.

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Voting closed 53

This guy is a walking red flag and the SJC wants to give him another chance at a one man crime wave? This isn't some first time offender caught up in a typical Massachusetts statute with ambiguously vague language. This is a seriously dangerous individual with repeatedly serious offenses.

W-T-F!

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Voting closed 28

to the charges even have their case continued without a finding in the first place?

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Voting closed 1

Didn't he have an attorney present or appointed?

I presume he got read his Miranda rights on the arrest.

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Voting closed 4

Re-read the story: The issue was what the judge said to him during his plea hearing, long after his arrest.

I don't know about other states, but here in Massachusetts, the law requires judges to make sure a defendant really understands what he's doing when he's pleading guilty to a crime - and in particular, if he understands that if he's not a US citizen that pleading guilty to a crime could mean for his or her immigration status. That's not something that would come up during an arrest and is not part of the Miranda warnings.

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Voting closed 3

So let me get this right? If you are a non-citizen you now have preferential treatment? Plus how do you get off with threatening somebody with deadly force. Did it even mention if said individual had a license to carry?

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Voting closed 22

Administration of justice is important, too. The judge screwed up. Today's ruling doesn't mean he walks free, it means he now has to go to trial.

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Voting closed 11

For something he already admitted doing.

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Voting closed 20

That admission will not be known to the jury, and if he opts for a bench trial, the judge will not be able to take it into account.

Of course, if/when he is found guilty, all good faith that went into the plea goes out the window.

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Voting closed 4

Ya gotta love this version of Adult T ball; swing, miss and strike out, Ah, heck, that’s right, no strike outs in T-ball, go on, take a couple of more swings.

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Voting closed 30

*spoiler alert

This was a plotline on the new season of OITNB

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Voting closed 2

n/t

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Voting closed 40

Very clever that the judge play dumb in order to get the criminal a free pass. The “opps I forgot to make it more clear” strategy.

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Voting closed 28

He's still being tried.
Second paragraph: "The ruling does not mean that Denver Petit-Homme simply walks. By withdrawing his plea, that frees the Suffolk County District Attorney's office to bring him to trial on the charges."

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Voting closed 16

pleads guilty get a CWOF anyway?

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Voting closed 12

Terms like "presumptively mandate" are not at all clear to someone with only a mid-h.s. education or who is not a native English speaker. In clinical trials, we have to write informed consent forms so that they will be clear to someone with only a 10th grade education, and this language would never pass.

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Voting closed 12

Explained it all to him so he could understand.
He plead, and affirmed he understood, case closed in my opinion.

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Voting closed 33

Where'd you get your J.D., StillFromDorchester, Esq.?

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Voting closed 7

... that his name translates to “Little Man,” with a gun.

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Voting closed 7