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Denial of post-conviction relief upheld by COA

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Even if the Indiana Court of Appeals was to assume that a defendant’s trial counsel performed below prevailing professional norms by not explaining the potential immigration consequences of his guilty plea, the judges ruled the defendant wasn’t prejudiced because the trial court explained those consequences.

In Roberto Barajas v. State of Indiana, 10A01-1208-PC-387, Roberto Barajas asked the COA to reverse the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief, which alleged his trial counsel was ineffective for not explaining to him the deportation consequences of his 2006 guilty plea to Class D felony possession of cocaine.  Barajas is not a citizen of the U.S. and speaks just a little English. Ramona Sharp translated his guilty plea hearing.

The trial judge at Barajas’ hearing explained to him that by pleading guilty, he could face immigration consequences, such as deportation. The judge allowed Barajas and his attorney time to speak off the record to determine whether he would continue to plead guilty. After the break, Barajas said he wanted to plead guilty and that his attorney did a good job representing him.

Last year, Barajas filed his petition for post-conviction relief. At the hearing, he said he was taken into custody by immigration authorities based on the 2006 conviction. He attempted to call Sharp as a witness, but she did not show on the first day and he decided on the second day not to call her.

The trial court denied his petition based in part on the trial court’s warnings to Barajas on deportation consequences for pleading.

The record shows Sharp translated the guilty plea hearing, Barajas told the court he understood Sharp, the court advised him of potential deportation consequences, and that he told the court his attorney did a good job representing him.

Even if his attorney’s performance was inefficient, it didn’t prejudice Barajas because of the trial judge’s advisement, the COA held. In addition, Barajas testified at the post-conviction hearing that he recalled Sharp telling him something about those potential consequences, but he didn’t remember what she said.

“This belies Barajas’ claim that he did not understand the guilty-plea proceedings. Thus, the post-conviction court was free to make a credibility determination on this issue,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote.

 

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