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Zacarias v. State

Court of Appeals of Iowa

August 7, 2019

LEON JUAN ZACARIAS, Applicant-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF IOWA, Respondent-Appellee.

          Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Muscatine County, Joel W. Barrows, Judge.

         Leon Juan Zacarias appeals the dismissal of his application for postconviction relief.

          Dan Vondra of Vondra & Malott PLC, Iowa City, for appellant.

          Thomas J. Miller, Attorney General, and Genevieve Reinkoester, Assistant Attorney General, for appellee State.

          Considered by Mullins, P.J., Bower, J., and Vogel, S.J. [*]

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         Leon Juan Zacarias appeals the district court's dismissal of his application for postconviction relief (PCR), which challenged his trial counsel's failure to advise him about immigration consequences of his guilty plea to identity theft and fraudulent practices. We affirm the district court.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings.

         Zacarias has resided in the United States since 2006, had completed all the paperwork to adjust his status to a permanent resident, and is married to a United States citizen. On July 13, 2016, Zacarias was charged with identity theft, forgery, and two counts of fraudulent practices.

         Zacarias hired attorney Michael Said to represent him due to Said's self-proclaimed expertise in criminal and immigration law.[1] On May 31, 2017, Zacarias filed a written guilty plea to two misdemeanors: identity theft and one count of fraudulent practice. The only mention of immigration on the memorandum of plea agreement is a handwritten provision at the bottom stating, "The defendant has been notified that any criminal charge or sentence can or will have immigration consequences." Zacarias and his interpreter both signed below the provision. On June 2, the court entered judgment and imposed a two-year suspended sentence and minimum fine on each count. The offenses related to Zacarias's use of another person's information to obtain employment and register a vehicle. Identity theft is considered a crime of moral turpitude, and a guilty plea results in clear immigration consequences, including mandatory detention and expedited removal.[2]

         On July 7, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) took Zacarias into custody when he went to sign his probation papers. On August 9, Zacarias filed a PCR application alleging ineffective assistance of counsel.

         Following a hearing where the court heard testimony from both Zacarias and Said, the court dismissed Zacarias's application. The court expressly found Said to be a more credible witness. Zacarias filed a motion for new trial claiming mistake of fact as to whether Zacarias had an immigration attorney and that Said lied during his testimony. The district court denied the motion. Zacarias appeals.

         II. Standard of Review

         We review postconviction-relief proceedings for correction of errors at law. Morales Diaz v. State, 896 N.W.2d 723, 727 (Iowa 2017); see also Iowa R. App. P. 6.907. "But when we are reviewing an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, we do so de novo because such claims are constitutional in nature." Hernandez Ruiz v. State, 912 N.W.2d 435, 439 (Iowa 2018). We give weight to the trial ...


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