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CJA Ancillary Matters Don't Include Prior State Conviction Appeals

By Robyn Hagan Cain on July 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

If Cher could turn back time — if she could find a way — she’d take back those words that hurt you, and you’d stay.

If Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals litigant Juan Garcia could turn back time, he’d take back a guilty plea to cocaine delivery in an Iowa court.

So yeah, Cher and Juan Garcia run in different circles.

Garcia is a Mexican national. He was deported to Mexico in 2009 after his permanent resident status was revoked based on the cocaine conviction. He was later indicted for illegal reentry in the U.S. Garcia pleaded guilty.

This time, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison because his cocaine offense added 12 levels to his base offense and enhanced his Criminal History Category from I to III. (Without the Iowa offense, it would have been between zero and six months.)

Before sentencing, Garcia -- who had a Criminal Justice Act (CJA) attorney for the illegal reentry charge -- requested appointment of an attorney in Iowa under the Act.

Garcia alleged that his prior Iowa counsel had not complied with the duty to advise him that a guilty plea would have adverse consequences for his immigration status. Garcia's reentry counsel contacted Iowa attorneys and believed one "would be willing to represent [Garcia] in state court to prepare and prosecute a Padilla claim."

The district court denied the motion for additional counsel. Garcia challenged the decision in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Just as Cher's love life is bound by the limits of the time-space continuum, the Fifth Circuit's authority to demand CJA counsel for an appellant is limited by statute and precedent.

Here, the relevant CJA states that any "person for whom counsel is appointed shall be represented at every stage of the proceedings from his initial appearance before the United States magistrate judge or the court through appeal, including ancillary matters appropriate to the proceedings." Garcia argued that "ancillary matters" could include the setting aside of a prior state conviction that affects the sentence he might receive in the prosecution for which he has already been assigned CJA counsel.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that its own precedent limits ancillary matters to "those involved 'in defending the principal criminal charge' and not to post-conviction proceedings." Furthermore, the CJA Guidelines suggest that a court consider whether "the issues of law or fact in the matter, arose from, or are the same as or closely related to, the facts and circumstances surrounding the principal criminal charge."

Garcia failed to meet the criteria, so the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Though he may not know why he did the things he did, or why he said the things he said, Garcia can't get a CJA attorney to turn back time on his Iowa conviction.

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