C.N. was born in Cambodia in 1974, as the violent reign of the Khmer Rouge regime began. In 1980she and her family were able to leave their war torn country and arrived in the United States as refugees. Shortly thereafter she obtained permanent resident alien status. The family settled in Tacoma.
When C.N. was 18 she became pregnant and began living with the father of her child. At one point they let a friend of her boyfriend stay with them. Unbeknownst to C.N. the friend was selling drugs. On August 7, 1992, a search warrant was served on the apartment. Found during the search was cocaine residue and a shotgun. C.N. agreed to talk to the police and maintained that she knew nothing about the drug activity. Nonetheless she was charged with possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and also with an allegation that the crime was committed with a deadly weapon which resulted in a potential punishment of 57 to 63 months in prison.
On December 8, 1992, on the advice of her public defender, C.N. entered a plea of guilty to the less serious felony charge of possession of cocaine and was placed on probation for twelve months. She completed the terms of her sentence without incident and an order discharging her from the sentence was entered on October 25, 1993. C.N. has had no other involvement with the criminal justice system since.
C.N. and her boyfriend married and continued to live in the Tacoma area until 1994 when she was laid off from her job. Unable to find work, she and her husband decided to relocate to North Carolina where they had relatives and job opportunities. Her first employment there was with Dixie Furniture. She maintained this employment, manufacturing furniture, for ten years. She then went to work building windows for the PGT Corporation, where she continues to work. She and her husband are now the parents of three children, ages 18, 14 and 12.
In 2011 C.N. began the process of renewing her permanent resident card. At that time she was advised by the immigration authorities that they intended to deport her. Her deportation was based solely upon her 1992 drug conviction.
The thought of deportation was devastating to C.N. and her family. She was raised in the United States and had no relatives in her native Cambodia. Her dependent children, who are U.S. citizens and do not speak Cambodian, would be placed in an environment in which they were not equipped to cope.
C.N. hired an immigration attorney in North Carolina who contacted Hanis Irvine Prothero Partner Greg Girard in an attempt to get the guilty plea entered by C.N. reversed.
Mr. Girard soon discovered that the original allegation against C.N. was weak. Mr. Girard uncovered a document written by the prosecutor to justify the reduction in charge in which she stated “The amount of drugs found not enough to show ‘intent to deliver’ – only residue found; it would be difficult to prove possession of narcotics by C.N. because many people in & out of house; shotgun was not found near the drug residue. State would have a difficult time establishing the firearm enhancement.”
Despite this, her public defender advised her to plead guilty to the less serious felony charge without ever informing her that such a guilty plea would make her automatically deportable under immigration law. Had she known this, she would not have pled guilty and would have fought the charge at trial. It was only when she was advised nearly 20 years later that she was going to be deported that C.N discovered what poor advice her public defender provided.
Based upon this, Greg Girard attacked the conviction on the basis that the advice received by C.N. from her public defender was so bad and prejudiced her to such a degree that allowing the conviction to stand would violate her constitutional right to due process of law. With the aid of associate attorney Erik Olsen, Mr. Girard prepared a memorandum of law detailing the injustice that occurred and the law that required that the injustice be corrected. After reviewing the memorandum the prosecutor was convinced that the guilty plea should not stand and agreed to enter an order withdrawing C.N.’s guilty plea and dismissing the case.
Shortly thereafter Mr. Girard received a letter from C.N.’s immigration lawyer. Included was an order dismissing the deportation proceeding against C.N. and a note from the attorney stating “the credit goes to you and I am so impressed you pulled it off.”
Immigrants may face severe consequences for relatively minor offenses, or even no offense at all. It takes experienced legal counsel to prevent that from happening and to undue damage already done. The Criminal Department at Hanis Irvine Prothero, PLLC works in conjunction with its Immigration Department to effectively minimize immigration consequences for its clients.