COURT WATCH: Undocumented Man Claims Rejected Plea after ‘Bad Information’ from Previous Immigration Attorney – Felony Trial Now Confirmed 

By Audrey Sawyer

MODESTO, CA – At a trial readiness conference Wednesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court for a man accused of domestic violence, defense attorney Ralph Nwobi told the court the undocumented accused was given “bad information” from his immigration attorney, who had advised him to not accept any offer associated with the domestic violence charges.

Nwobi asked the court to make the offer again, explaining the accused would have accepted the misdemeanor plea offer if he was aware the offer was only asking him to take domestic violence classes.

The initial offer required 90 days in custody and taking domestic violence classes. But, since the accused did not accept the terms of the offer at the time, the prosecution upgraded the charge to a felony.

Nwobi told the court the “accused did not understand that part of the misdemeanor that we wanted him to plead to just include domestic violence classes. His immigration attorney had told him not to admit to anything involving domestic violence. He had very bad information from this attorney.”

He added again that the accused is now willing to take the initial offer provided by the prosecution.

Judge Carrie Stephens informed the defense’s Nwobi she cannot “force” the prosecution to make the initial offer again, but did ask them to reconsider their offer. Defense attorney Nwobi repeated that when the offer had expired, it then went from being charged as a misdemeanor to a felony, which he argued was unjust.

Deputy District Attorney Dannica Molina (filling in for DDA Yasameen Sharifi) told the court the reason the misdemeanor offer was being revoked was contact the accused had with the alleged victim, despite a current protective order.

Judge Stephens pointed out the alleged victim had testified during a prior preliminary hearing the accused had injured her and that it required hospitalization. And because of that the judge is not amenable to ask the prosecution to offer a misdemeanor.

Defense attorney Nwobi explained the alleged victim and the accused were married for 17 years and currently have four children. Judge Stephens agreed there should be an exception made regarding the CPO so that some level of contact would be allowed, but that they can be addressed at the time of the trial.

“The information that he had from his immigration attorney…saying accepting any plea with domestic violence will mess up his immigration status,” Nwobi emphasized.

Judge Stephens admitted that if the accused is convicted, there will be domestic violence terms, the accused would likely be taken into custody at the end of the trial, and there would not be any chances or alternatives for jail.

However, Judge Stephens did add that she believes a felony for 90 days might be considered more appropriate.

While DDA Molina was willing to negotiate on the amount of time the accused spends in custody, Molina added the misdemeanor offer was revoked based on the last court date with contact between the alleged victim and the accused.

“Deputy District Attorney Sharifi is only on board with felony resolution. There was a 17b motion (to reduce to a misdemeanor) denied at preliminary hearing for a reason. The misdemeanor offer on the table in my opinion was a gift,” said Molina.

Defense attorney Nwobi said that the accused at this time would like to proceed with the trial, though he is concerned about his immigration status. The jury trial is set for April 22.

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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