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United States v. Tran

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

April 14, 2017





         This matter comes before the Court on remand from the Ninth Circuit to reconsider the motion by Defendant Khang Thien Tran petitioning the Court to issue a Writ of Corum Nobis. Dkt. #465. The Court originally denied this Motion on October 24, 2014, based on its interpretation of Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S.Ct. 1473 (2010). Dkt. #471. Defendant appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Dkt. #472. The Ninth Circuit ruled that Defendant's Motion presented two arguments for relief, only one of which was properly precluded by Padilla. Defendant's other claim, relying on United States v. Kwan, 407 F.3d 1005 (9th Cir. 2005), argued that his conviction should be vacated based on the claim that his lawyer provided him with inaccurate legal advice regarding the immigration consequences of his plea. In United States v. Chan, 792 F.3d 1151(9th Cir. 2015), a case decided after this Court's order denying Defendant's petition, the Ninth Circuit held that its decision in Kwan survived Padilla. Id. at 1154. As a result, the Ninth Circuit has remanded Defendant's case to this Court for a determination of that issue. The parties agreed to a briefing schedule with a new response brief from the Government and a reply brief from Defendant. Dkt. #481. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Defendant's Motion.


         Defendant Tran was born in Vietnam in 1974. Dkt. #465-1 at 1. Mr. Tran later immigrated to the United States, becoming a lawful permanent resident on January 18, 1990, at the age of 15. Id. at 2.

         In Defendant's criminal case, Mr. Tran and thirteen codefendants were charged with conspiracy to distribute 100 kilograms or more of marijuana in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a)(1), 841(b)(1)(B), and 846, an offense carrying a mandatory minimum five-year prison term. Dkt. #22. See 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(B). The Superseding Indictment added two additional charges against Mr. Tran for the distribution of an unspecified amount of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 841(b)(1)(D) (Counts 7 and 9). Dkt. #196.

         As part of a written plea agreement, Mr. Tran was permitted to plead guilty to the lesser-included offense of conspiracy to distribute at least 50 kilograms but less than 100 kilograms of marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 841(a) and 841(b)(1)(C), an agreement that permitted Tran to avoid a mandatory minimum five-year prison term. See Dkt. #263.

         At his change-of-plea hearing Mr. Tran had the benefit of an interpreter, Dkt. #483-1 at 2, even though he had not sought the assistance of an interpreter at other hearings. See Dkt. 109-144. At the start of the change-of-plea hearing, his counsel specifically informed the court that, although Mr. Tran spoke English “quite well, ” an interpreter was present because Tran wanted to make sure he understood everything that occurred during the change-of-plea proceedings. Dkt. #483-1 at 3. The record establishes that Mr. Tran responded in English to the magistrate judge's questions. See Id. at 2-18.

         Later in the hearing, the magistrate judge specifically informed Mr. Tran that, if he was not a United States citizen, his guilty plea could result in his deportation. Id. at 8. When asked if he understood that fact, Tran answered “yes” in English. Id. He did not request either a further explanation from the court or time to consult with his counsel about this point. Tran also did not seek to withdraw his plea during the more than two weeks that passed before the Court entered the order accepting his guilty plea. See Dkt. 264, 271. Before this petition, Tran had never sought to withdraw his guilty plea.

         Mr. Tran was sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment on September 11, 2007. Dkt. #344. After release from prison, Mr. Tran was taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security and brought before an immigration judge. Dkt. #465-1 at 5. Mr. Tran says he signed papers that permanently relinquished his lawful permanent resident status, although he did not understand that at the time. Id.

         On September 12, 2014, Mr. Tran filed the instant Motion petitioning for a writ of error coram nobis. Dkt. #465. This motion argues that Mr. Tran's erroneous guilty plea “made him removable from the United States as a matter of law, ” and that “his conviction bars him from applying for the primary forms of relief from deportation in removal proceedings.” Id. at 9-10.


         A. Legal Standard

         A defendant who has fully served his sentence may still challenge his conviction through a petition for a writ of error coram nobis. Hirabayashi v. United States, 828 F.2d 591, 604 (9th Cir. 1987). This writ is a “highly unusual remedy, available only to correct grave injustices in a narrow range of cases where no more conventional remedy is applicable.” United States v. Riedl, 496 F.3d 1003, 1005 (9th Cir. 2007). The Ninth Circuit has held that to be eligible for coram nobis relief, a petitioner must demonstrate that: “(1) a more usual remedy is not available; (2) valid reasons exist for not attacking the conviction earlier; (3) adverse consequences exist from the conviction sufficient to satisfy the case or controversy requirement of Article III; and ...

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