Earlier this year, Abhishek Gattani, a Silicon Valley CEO, was arrested and charged with domestic violence for reportedly beating up his wife. Gattani, who has a previous felony charge for domestic abuse, struck a plea deal with the State of California – reportedly in an effort to reduce the chances of his deportation. Rather than face serious repercussions for felony domestic violence convictions, Gattani pled “no contest to felony accessory and a misdemeanor count of offensive touching.”
Gattani was charged with a felony assault in 2013 after a postal worker witnessed him beating his now estranged wife on the sidewalk in front of their home. The charges were reduced to a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace – reportedly to avoid adverse immigration action.
It is now four years later and Gattani’s wife has had enough. In support of new charges, provided substantial evidence supporting her allegations of physical abuse and verbal threats against her safety and well-being. Despite the evidence, prosecutors pushed for a “lesser form of a felony.” A lesser felony would allow Gattani to serve as little as two weeks in county jail, expunge his record after a certain period of time, and – once again- keep him in the country.
Gattani’s estranged wife has been vocal about her thoughts on this domestic violence plea deal. She argues that “justice is being thwarted” simply to keep her wealthy abuser in the country. Gattani’s wife supplied the prosecution with more evidence than victims of domestic violence and abuse are generally able to gather. However, it appears as though her efforts were in vain. Gattani will likely walk away from the situation with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Gattani’s wife, who honestly believes her life to be in danger as long as her estranged husband is a free man, will probably not be able to rest peacefully knowing her abuser could be nearby.
Why would the prosecution want to push a lesser form of a felony when Gattani’s estranged wife had overwhelming evidence of the abusive, violent, and dangerous behavior? Certain crimes are viewed to be more sinister and damaging than others. Domestic violence is one of these morally reprehensible crimes – commonly referred to as crimes of moral turpitude. Conviction of a violent felony and/or domestic violence offenses could trigger immigration issues, including deportation. Even immigrants who are in the country legally could be sent back to their home countries if they are convicted of these morally objectionable crimes.
In 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law that required criminal prosecutors to “consider the avoidance of adverse immigration consequences” when negotiating plea bargains with violent criminals to “reach a just resolution.” The law aims to avoid the routine and/or mandatory deportation of criminals who are charged with a morally objectionable crime, but leaves room for truly violent and dangerous offenders to walk away with a slap on the wrist. In negotiating Gattani’s plea bargain, the prosecution appears to have given his potential deportation a considerable amount of gravity.
The interesting thing is that Gattani had not one – but two – felony domestic violence charges reduced in an effort to keep him in the country. Crimes of domestic violence and abuse are categorized as morally reprehensible. While the 2015 law may be an attempt to keep legal immigrants from adverse immigration action, it appears as though it may grant state prosecutors with far too much latitude and discretion when negotiating plea bargains. Should there be a limit on the number of felony charges that can be reduced for the purpose of avoiding adverse immigration actions?
Vikas Bajaj, a domestic violence lawyer in San Diego, CA, explained that it would be unwise to issue a hard and fast rule limiting the discretion prosecutors were granted under the 2015 law. “Plea bargains present an opportunity to weigh all factors and considerations in complex cases,” Bajaj said “There are far too many cases that are based on false allegations or that have little to no evidence to support a questionable allegation. While the outcome in this particular case is unfortunate, it would be unjust to deny wrongfully-accused persons the ability to stay in a country where they have established a home for themselves and their families.”
Bajaj goes on to emphasize the importance of “balancing the totality of the circumstances, the weight of the evidence, and, if applicable, the criminal history of the accused” when negotiating lesser charges in a plea agreement. “Stripping prosecutors of the ability to weigh the impact of a deportation would be shortsighted,” he explains.
On one hand, it is important to consider that allegations of domestic violence could be unsubstantiated and purposefully raised to cause trouble for an ex-spouse or partner. Alternatively, it is important to ensure that victims of domestic violence have the ability to see their abusers brought to justice for their heinous acts. Given that the 2015 law is relatively new it may take time to see how future plea negotiations proceed.