Definition Of “Conviction” –

Board abandons previous standards.

In a sweeping decision, the Board of Immigration Appeals (Board or BIA) overturned a substantial line of cases interpreting what qualifies as a “conviction”with respect to aliens in deportation proceedings.

In the case of In re Roldan, Int. Dec. 3377 (BIA 1999), the Board held that the body of case law and administrative rulings that had attempted to provide a uniform standard for determining when an alien is considered convicted for immigration purposes has been superseded by the enactment of the statutory definition of “conviction”set forth in section 101(a)(48)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (Act or INA).

After examining the language of the statutory definition of “conviction” as well as the legislative history of the provision, the Board concluded that in immigration proceedings, no effect should be given to a state action which purports to “expunge, dismiss, cancel, vacate, discharge, or otherwise remove a guilty plea or other record of guilt or conviction by operation of a state rehabilitation statute.”

In 1993, the respondent pleaded guilty to possession of more than 3 ounces of marijuana, a felony in the state of Idaho.

An Idaho state court withheld adjudication of judgment and sentenced him to 3 year’s probation.

Following his sentencing in 1994, deportation proceedings based on this offense were initiated.

While his deportation proceedings were pending before the Immigration Court, the respondent filed two motions with the Idaho state court.

The Idaho state court granted him early release from probation and dismissal of the charge, and granted his motion requesting that his guilty plea be vacated.

In his deportation proceeding, the respondent argued that the Idaho state court’s actions rendered him no longer convicted of the original charge, and therefore he was not deportable under INA section 241(a)(2)(B)(i).

In an April 1995 decision, the Immigration Judge found that all three criteria in the definition of conviction set forth in Matter of Ozkok, 19 I&N Dec. 546 (BIA 1988) had been met in this case.

The Immigration Judge found the respondent deportable based on his original guilty plea, notwithstanding the Idaho state court’s subsequent action vacating that plea. The issue before the BIA on appeal was whether the respondent would still be considered convicted for immigration purposes despite having his guilty plea vacated and his case dismissed by an Idaho court upon the termination of his probation pursuant to an Idaho rehabilitative
statute.

Specifically, the Board was examining whether the changes Congress made to the definition of “conviction” with the passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in 1996 supercede the body of case law that had been developed to address circumstances in which an alien is the beneficiary of state rehabilitative treatment purporting to erase the original determination of guilt.

In an effort toward achieving a uniform federal approach, Congress effectively replaced the Matter of Ozkok three-pronged test to determine whether an alien was considered convicted for immigration purposes in cases where adjudication of guilt was withheld with a two-part statutory definition of conviction.

The Board held that under the new definition of conviction in INA section 101(a)(48)(A), Congress eliminated the need to examine to a state’s ameliorative statute in order to determine if an alien has been convicted.