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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Garcia-Lopez - 903 F.3d 887 (9th Cir. 2018)


A defendant may withdraw his guilty plea before sentencing if he can show a fair and just reason for requesting the withdrawal. The fair and just standard is generous and must be applied liberally, but a defendant may not withdraw his plea simply on a lark. Fair and just reasons for withdrawal include inadequate Rule 11 plea colloquies, newly discovered evidence, intervening circumstances, or any other reason for withdrawing the plea that did not exist when the defendant entered his plea. A marked shift in governing law that gives traction to a previously foreclosed or unavailable argument may operate as a fair and just reason to withdraw a guilty plea. In such cases, a defendant need not show that his new arguments will be successful on their merits. His burden is only to show that proper advice could have at least plausibly motivated a reasonable person in his position not to have pled guilty had he known about the new case law prior to pleading. Additionally, California robbery does not constitute a crime of violence pursuant to 18 U.S.C.S. § 16(a).


Antonio Garcia-Lopez, who is a member of an indigenous minority group known as the Zapotecs, grew up speaking Zapotecan at home but learned Spanish for a few years in elementary school. He was arrested in 2010 for robbery and battery pursuant to the California Penal Code (California robbery). Garcia-Lopez pled guilty to the robbery charge with help from a Spanish interpreter, and received 36 months of formal probation and served a year in jail. Because California robbery constituted a crime of violence, then it is considered an “aggravated felony.” He later sought to withdraw his plea on grounds that 1) he did not have a Zapotecan interpreter at his plea hearing and that 2) California robbery is no longer a crime of violence pursuant to Dimaya and related Ninth Circuit precedent. The district court denied his motion to withdraw and therefore declined his Motion to Dismiss the Indictment.


Should Garcia-Lopez be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea before sentencing?




The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit rejected defendant's argument that the language barrier is a “fair and just reason” permitting withdrawal of the plea, however, the ruled that he should be entitled to withdraw his plea on the ground that California robbery is no longer a crime of violence under California law.  A “violent felony” under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) is “any crime punishable by imprisonement for a term exceeding one year…that (i) has as an element the use, attempted use or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or (ii) is burglary, arson, … extortion, [or] involves the use of explosives.” The Court ruled that it is not a categorical match to any of the enumerate offenses, and that physical force, which must be intentional, does not match the California robbery definition that it can be committed by accidentally using force.

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