Newark, NJ- The Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a Romanian immigrant, Ann Marie Rila, giving her the opportunity to challenge a guilty plea she entered in a criminal case based on the advice of man posing as an immigration attorney. Her case should serve as a warning to immigrants who find themselves in legal trouble. It is a reminder to check the professional credentials of any immigration attorney they consult about their case.
In the case, Anne Marie Rila vs. the State of Florida, the Fourth District Court of Appeals was asked to review the plaintiff’s motion to have her conviction reversed on the basis that her plea was involuntary because she was given the wrong advice by a person passing himself off as an attorney.
In 2013, the defendant in the case, Ann Marie Rila, who lived in Florida was arrested for criminal offenses which included grand theft and uttering a forged instrument. She hired a criminal defense attorney who consulted with a man posing as an immigration attorney to get advice about her case. The man, identified as Mathew Cruz, told Rila that she would not be deported for her guilty plea if her probation was a year or less. Cruz was incorrect, and after she had entered her guilty plea, Rila was informed that she would be deported immediately.
Rila challenged removal and appealed her conviction because she was misled about the consequences of accepting a plea bargain. During her plea hearing, Rila was given a general warning that her guilty plea could result in deportation and she affirmed that she was aware of those consequences, but she was acting on advice from someone not knowledgeable about immigration laws.
Later, Rila discovered that Cruz was not an attorney and not qualified to give legal advice. She then filed a motion stating that her plea was involuntary and that her plea for uttering a forged instrument was a crime of moral turpitude which is an immediately deportable offense pursuant to 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(i) should be vacated. Rila maintains that if she had been given the correct information, she would not have agreed to a plea bargain.
In her motion, Rila presented an affidavit from her defense attorney stating that there was no reason to doubt that Cruz was an immigration attorney and that he advised Rila that she would not be deported for her guilty plea. In the affidavit, her defense counsel stated Rila would not have entered a guilty plea if she were correctly informed about the consequences. She also produced evidence showing Cruz had been reported to the Florida State Bar.
Despite the evidence presented, the trial court denied Rila’s motion, so she appealed to the district court. The Fourth District Court ruled that a plea can be considered involuntary if a defendant is misinformed about the consequences of a guilty plea. Justices agreed that the warning Rila received do not contradict her claim that she would not have entered a guilty plea if she was fully aware of consequences. The Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed Rila’s conviction and remanded her case to a lower court for further review.
Immigrants facing criminal charges must carefully consider how they are going to plea carefully. Entering a guilty plea or accepting a plea bargain can result in immediate deportation depending on the seriousness of their charges.
If you are looking for an immigration lawyer in Essex County including East Orange, Elizabeth or Newark, you need to confirm that any attorney you are considering is a member of the New Jersey State Bar. If you require help with an immigration issue, you should also make sure you counsel is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. I meet both of those requirements, and I am knowledgeable about criminal and immigration law, so I can help you make an informed decision about your plea the immigration consequences it may have. Call my office at (973) 453-2009, and we can arrange a case consultation.