Vacating a Criminal Conviction and Your Rights as a Criminal Defendant in Massachusetts
December 5th, 2022
A criminal conviction can simply be overwhelming. It can be incredibly intimidating to stand in front of a courtroom and be accused of a criminal act. A judge will quickly decide whether they can remain free from custody while their case makes its way through the criminal justice system. Generally, the person will have only brief appearances in court before being faced with a decision of whether or not to accept responsibility for the allegations.
Often, they are not even asked for their side of the story. Accepting responsibility may mean they are let out of jail and reunited with their family, or it may mean they no longer have to take days off work to sit for hours in a criminal courtroom. There are many reasons why someone will plead guilty or accept responsibility for (note: there are dispositions that are not consider a guilty plea, i.e. a continuance without a finding, however, it is accepting responsibility and negative for immigration) something even though they may not be at fault. The true consequence of a criminal conviction is often not felt immediately, but later a person can face unexpected consequences, such as having their driver’s license revoked, losing their job, having their application for a visa denied, or even being deported from the United States.
Grounds to File a Motion to Vacate a Criminal Conviction in Massachusetts
Fortunately, in some instances, our court system provides a second chance. Massachusetts law allows a court to remove a conviction if it was obtained unjustly or if the procedures were improper. This will generally require information about how the initial criminal case proceeded and what evidence the government had against the individual. There are many scenarios in which the court might grant a motion to vacate a conviction.
Plea Must Be Knowingly, Intelligently, and Voluntarily Made
If a guilty plea was made, the defendant must have made the guilty plea knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily for it to be valid. A plea is voluntary if the defendant made the plea of their own free will and was not unlawfully coerced into pleading guilty.
The plea must also be intelligently made, meaning that the defendant must understand the circumstances of their case and the possible consequences of pleading guilty. Lastly, a defendant’s plea must be made knowingly, which simply means that the defendant knows the charges against them and the elements of the crimes with which they have been charged. If it can be proven that a plea was not knowlingly, intelligently and voluntarily made then it is possible to have the conviction removed.
Failure to Read a “Colloquy” to a Defendant
In Massachusetts, postconviction relief may also be requested if a judge failed to read the necessary “colloquy” before accepting a defendant’s guilty plea. A colloquy is a series of questions the judge will ask the defendant to confirm that their guilty plea was made knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily.
Using a colloquy helps the judge ensure that the defendant’s guilty plea is free of coercion; that they understand the crimes they have been charged with; that they are aware of the extent of their guilt; that they understand the potential consequences involved, and that they are competent to make the plea. It also reminds the defendant that they have a right to a trial if they so choose. Failing to make these inquiries can be grounds for postconviction relief.
Competency of the Defendant
A defendant must also be mentally competent to enter their guilty plea. A defendant is considered competent to enter a guilty plea if they have the present ability to consult with their attorney and have a rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against them. If a judge fails to ensure that the defendant comprehends what they are pleading to, a request can be made to vacate a conviction.
Effects on Defendant’s Immigration Status
There are many ways a criminal conviction can affect a person’s immigration status. A criminal conviction may result in a person’s deportation or removal from the United States. It may prevent them from obtaining U.S. citizenship and it may render them inadmissible (ineligible for residency or entry to the United States with a Visa).
In Massachusetts, the court is required to provide each defendant with a verbal warning about the potential immigration impacts that guilty pleas and admissions can have on the status of an immigrant. If the court does not provide these warnings and an individual may be subject to one of those consequences then the conviction can be or may be vacated. In addition to the court warnings, a defendant must be advised by his attorney of all of the potential consequences that a plea or admission will have on their immigration status. If the criminal defense attorney does not provide this advice and information, then the conviction may be vacated if the defendant can demonstrate there was a reasonable alternative to the plea or admission.
Your Constitutional Rights as a Defendant in a Massachusetts Criminal Case
There are rights that every criminal defendant has and if those rights were not respected the defendant may have this conviction vacated or overturned. In Massachusetts, some important rights include:
- The right to be present at all critical stages of the criminal proceeding
- The right to a trial by jury or by a judge
- The right to present evidence and testimony
- The right to examine and review the evidence that the government has against you prior to the trial
- The right to representation by a qualified attorney that properly represents you
- Right to be advised by the judge of the potential immigration consequences of your conviction before you plea
- And the right that your attorney provides a detailed explanation of the actual immigration consequences of your plea
Postconviction Relief Under Rule 30 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure
Rule 30 of the Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure, provides for Postconviction Relief, as it allows a defendant who has made an admission to sufficient facts, pleaded guilty, or been found guilty to file a motion for a new trial, vacating the conviction.
In Massachusetts in order to vacate a conviction, the postconviction relief procedures, under Rule 30 require the defendant to:
- Present a motion for a new trial, to the Court that issued the conviction. The motion must be heard by the same Judge that entered the judgement of conviction, and only if that Judge is not accessible, may another Judge rule on that motion.
- The motion must be accompanied by sufficient evidence, in the form of an affidavit (a sworn statement), as well as other records and documentation, if they are available, to demonstrate that the conviction which was entered was unlawful.
- The motion and its supporting evidence must be served on the prosecutor’s office that handled the case for the Commonwealth, whether it was the Office of the Attorney General or one of the District Attorney’s Offices.
- The Court, in its discretion, may schedule an evidentiary hearing at either party’s request, if it is necessary for the Court to reach a decision.
- The Court after reviewing the motion, with or without a hearing, must issue a decision granting or denying the request for a new trial.
What Happens if My Massachusetts Criminal Conviction is Vacated?
If the court vacates the conviction, the defendant will usually be required to defend the charges again, so it is important to consider the likelihood of whether or not the new trial will be successful, before filing the motion to vacate a conviction.
Courts are generally more open to vacating a conviction if it is clear that the defendant will be successful in their defense. Vacating a conviction and successfully defending the case can eliminate virtually all of the problems that the conviction caused or would cause, and it can be vital for non-U.S. citizens to be able to remain in the United States.
If you are facing criminal charges, have been improperly convicted or your rights have been violated, our Boston criminal defense lawyers can defend you and assist with vacating a conviction in Massachusetts. Vacating a conviction and obtaining the proper criminal defense is all the more important if you are an immigrant as certain types of pleas which may look advantageous in terms of less harsh punishments can be worse in terms of immigration consequences. Our experience with immigration matters makes our criminal defense attorneys uniquely qualified to represent immigrants in criminal matters.
Our Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help
To schedule a consultation with one of our criminal defense lawyers in Massachusetts call us at 617-523-6320 (ext.0) or request your appointment online. It will be our pleasure to serve you. Our Boston law firm can also assist you with any Immigration and Personal Injury Matters.