Earlier this week I spent the morning sitting with a client in the arraignment session at the local court. The courtroom was packed, mostly with young adults, accused of various misdemeanor level offenses. The clerk of the court took promptly took attendance at 8:15am and asked each person if they intended to change their plea to “guilty”. One by one almost everyone in attendance said “yes”. Yes, they would plead guilty, yes they opted to speak with the prosecutor, and yes, all without the benefit of counsel. I wanted to pull the last remaining strands of hair out of my big bald head.
The Ortiz decision, issued on April 10th, 2012, exemplifies why you need an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side. In 2007 Ms. Ortiz entered a plea of nolo contender in the Manchester District Court to a Class ‘A’ Misdemeanor complaint alleging Shoplifting. She did this without the benefit of a lawyer.
In 2011 the Federal Government came knocking and commenced removal proceedings on the basis that the crime of shoplifting constituted a ‘crime involving moral turpitude’ a deportable offense. Ms. Ortiz later sought to vacate the plea, arguing that the trial court violated her due process rights by failing to advise her of the adverse immigration consequences.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court denied her request concluding that immigration consequences are “collateral” consequences of a plea and State constitutional due process protections do not require trial courts to advise defendants of such potential collateral consequences during plea colloquies. Hence, Ms. Ortiz is stuck with a criminal conviction and its attendant consequences.
Here is the lesson: consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney before setting foot in the courtroom. What you think is an expeditious way of resolving your criminal trouble, doing it yourself by pleading guilty and saving the money on hiring an attorney, may well come back to bite you in the rear. Every plea has a consequence. Recent NH criminal case results.
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