Withdrawing plea might mean deportation

LIHUE — A defendant appearing for sentencing on a third-degree sexual assault charge on Wednesday in 5th Circuit Court asked his attorney to withdraw a no-contest plea and move to trial on three felony counts.

Corazon Constantino was present with an Ilocano interpreter, while his family sat in the gallery. Originally, he appeared for a sentencing hearing for a sexual contact by strong compulsion charge, which stemmed from an incident on Dec. 20, 2009.

Constantino pleaded no contest to a C-felony third-degree sexual assault on March 6. The deal would dismiss another count of third-degree sexual assault and attempted third-degree sexual assault.

Defense attorney Emmanuel Guerrero said no motion was filed because his client’s “change of heart” came just prior to the hearing. The court continued the matter until Aug. 27 to address the motion to withdraw the plea after a written motion is filed by the defense and a response by the prosecution.

County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Arin requested the continuance as opposed to arguing the oral motion at the sentencing hearing. She said that withdrawing the plea would nullify the deal and the case would move forward with the original charges.

Under the agreement on one count of third-degree sexual assault, the state would agree to request no more than 364 days jail. The deal was worked out to avoid triggering an automatic deportation situation, which would occur if he was in jail more than one year.

“This deal took one-and-a-half years to get the government to agree,” Guerrero said.

Judge Kathleen Watanabe asked Guerrero to inform the defendant that each felony charge carries a maximum possible sentence of five years imprisonment. The court also has the option of extended sentencing for multiple felony charges that could double the time to 30 years in prison.

Pulling the deal off the table now means the defendant faces egregious felony charges that change his immigration status, Watanabe said.

Watanabe referred to the Alien Advisement Act, which went into effect July 1. It changes the language of the cautionary statement regarding convictions on immigration status of non-citizens.

The Hawaii State Legislature passed the act this past session with the intent to conform with changes in federal law. The bill has not yet been signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, but has been recited to defendants in 5th Circuit Court.

The statement warns that non-citizens, even with a lawful immigration status, have the right to receive advice from their attorney about the specific impact that this case will have on their immigration status.

A guilty or no-contest plea is considered an admission of guilt and may have consequences of detention, deportation, exclusion from admission to the United States, or denial of naturalization.

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