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.