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  • WisBar News
    September 24, 2013

    Judge's Immigration Warning Was Sufficient, Appeals Court Rules

    Sept. 24, 2013 – Wisconsin law requires courts to give defendants an “immigration warning” before accepting a plea deal, with specific language that must be used to warn a defendant that deportation can result from guilty or no contest pleas.

    A Milwaukee Circuit Court judge gave the warning to Ali Mursal, a Somali refugee accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl repeatedly.

    But the judge did not use the exact language prescribed by the statute before sentencing Mursal to 40 years in prison, with 20 years of extended supervision.

    Under Wis. Stat. § 971.08(1)(c), courts must advise as follows: “If you are not a citizen of the United States of America, you are advised that a plea of guilty or no contest for the offense with which you are charged may result in deportation, the exclusion from admission to this country or the denial of naturalization, under federal law.”

    Mursal had an interpreter present when the judge gave this warning. But the warning deviated slightly from the statutory language. For instances, the judge said “United States” instead of “United States of America,” among other things.

    After two other postconviction motions failed, Mursal moved to withdraw his guilty plea on the ground that the trial court judge did not adequately advise him of immigration consequences. That motion was denied. Recently, a state appeals court affirmed.

    In State v. Mursal, 2012AP2775-CR (Sept. 24, 2013), a three-judge panel for the District I Court of Appeals ruled that trial court judges need not recite the immigration warning verbatim from the statute, but urged courts to use it.

    “Substantively, the trial court’s warning complied perfectly with the statute, and linguistically, the differences were so slight that that they did not alter the meaning of the warning in any way,” wrote Judge Patricia Curley.

    “The statutory language is strongly preferred,” the panel noted, but “implementing the rule Mursal proposes would lead to plea reversals in cases where, as here, the warning wholly complied with the substance of the statute,” Judge Curley explained.

    The appeals panel also rejected Mursal’s request for a new sentence on the grounds that the trial judge did not explain his justification for such a harsh sentence.

    “Mursal’s sentence – a combination of consecutive and concurrent sentences totaling sixty years – was well within the maximums allowed by law, and was not excessive,” the appeals court ruled. 

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