WENATCHEE — A Mexican immigrant who overturned a previous guilty plea that could have cost him his visa pleaded guilty Monday to a far lesser charge that should let him remain in the United States.
Flavio Ramirez Cruz, 29, entered a plea to misdemeanor disorderly conduct in Chelan County Superior Court, two years after an ill-advised guilty plea to fourth-degree assault in the same case. He was later able to show that his attorney did not provide proper advice on how his plea would affect his immigration status, and that earlier plea was invalidated last November.
“He doesn’t want any more problems,” Ramirez’s attorney, Phil Safar of Wenatchee, told Judge Lesley Allan. “His goal in doing this … is to put everything behind him.”
Ramirez, an agricultural worker from George, is one of at least three Chelan County defendants who’ve sought to withdraw their guilty pleas in the last year, claiming poor immigration advice affected their decisions. He’s the first of the three to win a new trial.
Ramirez was accused of assaulting his girlfriend at her Wenatchee home in 2010. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time already served in jail, but learned later that the plea endangered his type-V visa — a fact his lawyer, Douglas Anderson of Ephrata, never told him.
Ramirez was on track to become a permanent legal resident; his visa was awarded by virtue of his father’s permanent resident status. By pleading guilty to assault, considered a “crime of moral turpitude” under immigration law, he became subject to automatic deportation.
“Moral turpitude” encompasses criminal convictions that involve fraud, larceny or intent to harm. Another deportable category, “aggravated felony,” is defined in part as a conviction carrying a sentence of at least one year in jail — even if the crime itself is a misdemeanor.
Safar moved to withdraw the plea based on recent Washington state and U.S. Supreme Court findings that defendants are entitled to accurate immigration-law advice in criminal matters. Superior Court Judge T.W.“Chip” Small agreed to overturn the plea after Ramirez’s former lawyer testified “he may not have even known what (Ramirez’s) immigration status was,” court minutes show.
Chelan County deputy prosecutor Gene Pearce agreed to the misdemeanor charge after Wenatchee police were unable to find the victim in the original incident. In the revised plea, Ramirez admitted, “I used abusive language and thereby intentionally created the risk of assault” in the January 2010 confrontation with his girlfriend.
The plea does not amount to either an aggravated felony or crime of moral turpitude that would trigger immigration review, Safar said Monday. Ramirez has no prior felony convictions.
Allan sentenced Ramirez to 51 days in jail, all of which he already served after his arrest; assigned $800 in fines and court costs that he’s already paid; and placed him on probation for two years.
“For the last two years, he’s been law-abiding,” Safar said. “The hope is that he will for the next two years as well.”
Ramirez and the woman have a 2-year-old son. The defendant told Allan he hoped to restore visitation.
“I want to know if there is any way to have a court order to visit my child, because I have not been able to see him,” Ramirez, whose first language is the Mixtec native dialect of Mexico, said through an interpreter.
Allan said she could not enter such an order in the criminal case and advised him to work through family court.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123