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State v. Ali

Court of Appeals of Iowa

March 8, 2017

STATE OF IOWA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ALI ABDELKARIM ALI, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Sean W. McPartland (guilty plea) and Ian K. Thornhill (sentencing), Judges.

         A defendant appeals his burglary conviction, contending he was prejudiced by faulty advice from counsel about the immigration consequences of his guilty plea. CONVICTION AND SENTENCE VACATED; CASE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS.

          John J. Bishop, Cedar Rapids, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Jean C. Pettinger, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee.

          Considered by Potterfield, P.J., and Doyle and Tabor, JJ.

          TABOR, Judge.

         Syrian-born Ali Abdelkarim Ali appeals his conviction for burglary in the second degree, contending his attorney misinformed him regarding the adverse immigration consequences of pleading guilty and his plea was driven by a false hope that a deferred judgment offered a chance to avoid removal from the United States. Because the State does not dispute Ali received misinformation, we consider only whether he suffered prejudice. Finding "a decision to reject the plea bargain would have been rational under the circumstances, " we vacate Ali's guilty plea and remand for further proceedings.

         I. Facts and Prior Proceedings

         The State charged Ali and three codefendants with attempt to commit murder and robbery in the first degree in connection with a shooting at a Coralville residence on June 22, 2015. The State alleged "Ali helped the defendants gain access to a residence; then the defendants rushed into that residence demanding to know 'where's it at?'" "It" referred to marijuana they planned to steal, according to the minutes of evidence. After rushing into the residence, one of Ali's codefendants fired a .40 caliber pistol, striking a victim in the hip, "causing a through-and-through bullet wound." The State expected to offer testimony that "[t]he defendants all then fled the house, taking several cell phones; several of the victims scattered as well."

         Ali was eighteen years old at the time of the crime and a legal permanent resident of the United States. After being charged with two class "B" felonies, Ali struck a bargain with the State, agreeing to plead guilty to burglary in the second degree, a class "C" felony, in violation of Iowa Code sections 713.1 and 713.5(1)(b) (2015), in return for dismissal of the attempted murder and robbery counts.

         On the day of the plea hearing, defense counsel filed a document entitled "Citizenship Addendum to Plea of Guilty" in which counsel outlined the detailed advice he provided Ali concerning the "deportation or other adverse immigration consequences" of the plea to second-degree burglary. At issue is the following passage: "I have advised the Defendant if he receives a deferred judgment at the open sentencing in the above-captioned matter this scenario provides the best opportunity to avoid deportation." The addendum also stated that in making his guilty plea, Ali was "relying on undersigned counsel's advice regarding the immigration consequences." Counsel asserted the addendum was filed "pursuant to Iowa Rule of Criminal Procedure 2.8(2)(b)(5) and Padilla v. Kentucky."[1]

         According to the presentence investigation (PSI) report, Ali's parents brought him to the United States when he was five years old. Ali's father described his son as "a follower" whose friends were "a problem for him." Ali's mother believed Ali's co-defendants "would have killed him if he had not cooperated with them." In recommending prison, the author of the PSI report pointed to Ali's prior juvenile-delinquency adjudications and the need to protect the public from violent crime.

         In a sentencing memorandum, defense counsel asserted Ali was born in Syria to Sudanese immigrants "who were affiliated with the Republican Brotherhood movement in Sudan." Counsel explained:

The Republican Brotherhood was a liberal reform movement that called for greater equality for women and non-Muslims. Eventually the leader of the movement, Mahmud Muhammad Taha, was executed after opposing the imposition of Sharia law, and many of its members, including Ali's parents, fled Sudan. Ali's parents fled first to Syria, where he was born, and then eventually ended up in the United States. Ali's parents settled in Iowa City where he attended school, eventually graduating from ...

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