Nan-Hui Jo Released from Immigration Detention But Immigration Status Remains Unresolved

Supports of Nan-Hui Jo stand holding signs in front of the courthouse in April
Supporters of Nan-Hui Jo stand holding signs in front of the courthouse in April

Supporters of Nan-Hui Jo sent out a press release on Thursday announcing that an immigration judge had released Ms. Jo on bond last Friday, July 17. Immigration issues and the case remains pending with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS), as well as the Immigration Court.

She will be having a family court appearance that may help determine the custody of her daughter, whom she still has not seen since her arrest nearly a year ago. Nan-Hui was arrested, jailed and separated from her daughter immediately upon entering the U.S. on July 29, 2014.

A Yolo County court in the second trial convicted Ms. Jo of a single count of parental abduction. On April 28, Judge David Rosenberg denied a defense motion for a new trial, but reduced the charge to a misdemeanor, over the objections of the Yolo County District Attorney’s office.

This allowed for her release, however, immediately following that release, Nan-Hui Jo was taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody and jailed at an immigration detention center in Yuba County, CA, where she has spent the last three months.

Organizers celebrated her release in a press release, expressing “gratitude for all her supporters nationwide, and vow[ing] continued support for Nan-Hui in her fight to be reunited with her daughter.”

“We are thrilled that Nan-Hui has finally been released from immigration detention, and thank everyone who made this victory possible. While we celebrate this critical moment, we also know that this is not the end of the struggle for Nan-Hui’s freedom and reunification with her daughter,” says Hyejin Shim, a Stand With Nan-Hui organizer.

Domestic violence organizations, Asian-American community groups, immigrant rights organizations, and supporters across the country have rallied for Nan-Hui by attending her criminal trials, holding demonstrations, organizing educational events, fundraising for legal fees, and bringing widespread attention to the case.

“We are incredibly relieved that Nan-Hui has finally been released and is one step closer to resolving this year-long nightmare. It is unthinkable that ICE was days away from permanently separating a mother from her child because of a system that prioritizes deportation quotas over the well-being of a family,” said Saira Hussain, Staff Attorney at Asian Law Caucus. “We must recognize this case within the context of the growing criminalization of survivors of domestic violence and the undocumented community.”

Nan-Hui’s family court proceedings continued earlier this week. She also is currently appealing the child abduction conviction. Her attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus to the California Supreme Court in May, citing serious legal errors in jury instruction.

In March, a Yolo County jury convicted Nan-Hui Jo of a single count of parental abduction.  Following a change of counsel and a delay, Defense Attorney Dennis Riordan filed a motion for a new trial, asserting serious error in Judge David Rosenberg’s jury instructions.

Judge Rosenberg concluded the sentencing hearing, stating that he had done something to make both the defense and prosecution unhappy. He declined the defense’s motion for a new trial, ruling that the court is comfortable with its jury instructions and he found they were not prejudicial to the defense.

Judge Rosenberg then used his discretion to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor with time served.

Dennis Riordan argues that the prosecution here raised extremely complex issues of both state and federal law and, “The Court received little advice on the relevant law from counsel for the parties in framing and resolving those issues.”

Most importantly, he argues, “The controlling legal framework for virtually every aspect of this case was provided by the California Supreme Court in 2006, yet defense counsel never cited People v. Neidinger (2006) 40 Cal.4th 67 to the Court, and the prosecution’s one-line throw away description of the Neidinger holding was entirely specious.”

As a result, he argues, “Ms. Jo’s second trial was marred by multiple, serious legal errors.”

The Vanguard would learn that the controlling case, Neidinger, was a Yolo County case itself, prosecuted by the same prosecutor as in the Nan-Hui Jo case.

Mr. Riordan argues, “Plainly, the Court erred in reducing the definition of malice to the terms of CALCRIM 250. In so doing, the Court effectively eliminated malice as an element of the offense that had to be proven above and beyond the general intent required of every criminal violation in California.”

This is not a small error, because it was the definition of malice that caused a juror to question the legal definition of malice, which resulted in the judge dismissing her.

Mr. Riordan continues, “The Court compounded that error by instructing the jury that a defendant’s belief in the legality of her actions could not constitute a defense. When properly defined, the element of malice is inconsistent with an honestly held belief in the legality of ones action’s.”

Judge Rosenberg disagreed with this. He ruled that the definition of malice was a specific intent crime until the prosecution deleted key elements that made it as such – therefore it became a general intent crime. Judge Rosenberg defended the use of California Criminal Jury Instructions No. 1252, stating that he gave the entire instruction because it applied to some of the evidence that was presented.

In sentencing Ms. Jo, Judge Rosenberg laid out the known facts of the case. He stated it was a crime to take a child away from a parent who has a lawful right to have contact with the child. The law does allow exemptions – five components that she must follow which, according to him, for the most part she did not do.

The jury considered this evidence and found her guilty. She took the law into her own hands.

However, he said there are unique qualities in this case and, in the interest of good judgment, he would be using his discretion to reduce the charges to a misdemeanor. He sentenced her to three years of summary probation with 175 days of in-jail time, which is time served.

He urged them to allow the Sacramento Family Court system to work with them and come up with a solution for the best interests of the child and all involved.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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15 thoughts on “Nan-Hui Jo Released from Immigration Detention But Immigration Status Remains Unresolved”

  1. Tia Will

    Nan-Hui was arrested, jailed, and separated from her daughter immediately upon entering the U.S. on July 29, 2014.”

    He urged them to allow the Sacramento Family Court system to work with them and come up with a solution for the best interest of the child and all involved.”

    It is interesting to me that this case, involving very complicated domestic violence, parental rights ( note not child’s rights), and immigration is occurring at the same time that the immigration issue has been reignited by the murder of Kathryn Steinle. Our “justice system” seems to have a very limited ability to discern who is a danger to our society and thus in need of incarceration for the protection of the public from those who present no danger to anyone. The 20-20 perfect hindsight interpretation is that had Ms. Steinle’s murderer not been in the country she would be alive today. While this may be true ( “may” because Ms. Steinle could just s easily have been killed by an American with no prior arrests) it says nothing about how we should treat non violent offenders who are no threat to the safety of anyone. 

    Surely the urging of the judge could be the guiding principle for how we handle those who have broken our laws. An additional 3 months of incarceration may not seem much to us as adults whose greatest concern in this case was immigration status or parental rights. However, I can virtually guarantee you that it is an eternity for a child the age of Nan-Hui’s daughter, the real victim in all of these technical, legal arguments. She seems to have had no one speaking on her behalf. I speak as a daughter who was deprived of the presence of a parent at similar age. This should not be about  narrowly interpreted laws and finely interpreted nuanced legal terms.  In a “just” world, this would be about the well being of one little girl who has been almost completely forgotten in the adult legal wrangling.

  2. Biddlin

    Yes, her daughter is the real victim, BECAUSE HER MOTHER IS THE REAL CRIMINAL. The jury in her earlier case having convicted her, even though the weak kneed judge reduced the charge to a misdemeanor for sentencing purposes, Tia Will still knows best, NOT. The most danger that the child has ever been in was as a direct result of her maternal unit’s flight from justice to Korea.

    I have never seen a more craven example of self indulgence, no matter what her motivation. Calling her a survivor mama is insulting and disgusting.



    1. Davis Progressive

      i’m not in agreement.  you are ignoring a lot in this brief comment.  you ignore the immigration issues.  you ignore the father’s dv issues and anger management.  moreover rosenberg may be a lot of things, but weak kneed is not one of them.

  3. Tia Will


    Tia does not “know best”. Tia sees differently.

    With due respect to your differing point of view, I believe that being held by the neck and slammed into a wall is not only insulting and disgusting but potentially lethal. Unfortunately our “justice” system does an inadequate job of protecting victims of domestic violence which is still violence even if there is only one documented episode. Would it have required her death in this episode for you to have perceived this woman as a victim ?

    1. Biddlin

      It requires more than her word about the extent and context of the events, which the father faced up to and dealt with, without deception or child stealing across international borders to a third world country with medieval attitudes toward women and mixed race children, (Some place to take her child, huh?)You always omit these facts, in favor of a “All men are evil” plea!

      News Flash, Tia, some women are lying, manipulating narcissists. This one is demonstrably a lying criminal, who has used her child as a bargaining chip and shield from day one. Look at the record objectively and you can reach no other conclusion.


      1. Matt Williams

        Biddlin, your news flash only tells part of the story . . . some men are lying, manipulating narcissists. For that matter, some children are lying, manipulating narcissists.


      2. Tia Will


        you always omit these facts, in favor of a “All men are evil” plea!”

        Look at the record objectively and you can reach no other conclusion.”

        Congratulations Biddlin !  You have now arrived at the gold medal tier of the podium with Frankly in the “my view is the only objective one” competition. You have chosen to set the technicalities of our laws above all else in your estimation of what is important here. But laws are changeable. They are what has been decided upon by one set of lawmakers at one point in time. You are failing to consider at all whether this particular set of laws results in just outcome.  My priority is the well being of this one particular little girl . And yes, I do place this above parental rights. Judge Rosenburg’s actions in attempting to have this handled in Family Court would seem to feel that he favors this interpretation.

        And while you are touting how “objective” you are, please show me where in any of my comments I have made an “all men are evil” plea. I would have been making the exact same comments if the genders had been reversed. Advocating for pregnancy termination, attempting to pressure to adopt out, and physical violence are not gender bound actions and my feelings would have been the same regarding these actions on the part of a man or a woman. So much for “objectivity” !

      3. Tia Will


        You did a little deflection of your own in not addressing the question I had posed about whether you would have acknowledged it as violence if she had been killed in the episode in question. Which by the way was apparently factual, not a lie since he did not challenge that it had happened. So your solution for the victim of such an attack is that he/or she just remain in their obviously dangerous situation so as to defer to the “parental rights” of their attacker ?  That is how a colleague of mine in the Bay Area ended up being killed by her partner. I apologize if my preference for life over paternal rights offends you.

        1. Biddlin

          Sorry,I was dealing with the facts, not your fantasy.

          Probably a good thing that they barre you from jury duty, if you can’t separate that from reality’


        2. Barack Palin

          Which by the way was apparently factual, not a lie since he did not challenge that it had happened.

          Mr. Obrien decided not to challenge his case and if I remember right you said that didn’t make him guilty.  Are you trying to have it both ways?

          1. Matt Williams

            BP, for me, one of the problems with the resolution of the O’Brien case is that is is by definition “a bit of both ways.” It is stuck smack dab in the grey area . . . with lots and lots of unanswered questions for all parties.

  4. Tia Will


    Fair observation had it been accurate. There is a difference between not contesting and admitting. My belief is that the father in the current case admitted that he had held her by the neck and slammed her into the wall. He did admit that he had anger management issues as well as issues with alcohol. So no, I do not believe that I am “trying to have it both ways”.

    If I am incorrect, show me and I will be happy to revise my statement.

    1. Ann Block

      Some of the undisputed facts in this case are:

      The federal government ordered Ms. Jo to leave the U.S. and she complied, so as not to break federal law.

      U.S. federal law trumps state law.   In addition, there was no state law order regarding custody at all when she left the U.S.

      Korean law almost always awards full custody to the mother only, even if the mother is a foreigner to Korea and child is a dual citizen per the Korean Supreme Court.

      The federal gov’t did not comply with its own policies and regulations in its failure to inform Ms. Jo that she had the right to apply for immigration status as the victim of domestic violence based on her prior marriage to a U.S. citizen, which would have allowed her to remain in the U.S. legally.

      The federal government did not take into account the psychological and emotional damage to the child or even investigate that issue when refusing to release Ms. Jo from custody for almost a year — and ultimately it was not ICE that released her, it was an Immigration Judge.

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