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Friday, June 12, 2009

Does Pleading Guilty to a Drug Charge Injure Immigrant's 'Good Moral Character'? Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Says No.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 12, 2009 at 1:59 PM

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The San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that the government cannot use an illegal immigrant's expunged guilty plea to a simple drug offense as evidence of bad moral character in deportation proceedings.

Jesus Romero came to the United States from Mexico when he was 10 years old in 1988. He pleaded guilty to a first-time drug possession offense a decade later, yet the judge deferred judgment against him pending his completion of a rehabilitation program. According to state law, if an individual successfully completes the deferred judgment program, the criminal charges will be dismissed. Yet prior to his completion of the program, Romero was swooped up in state court by immigration officials for deportation proceedings. 

The immigration judge found he could not be deemed to have "good moral character," one of four elements one must satisfy to beat a deportation order. One is disqualified from good moral character if her or she has been convicted of a number of crimes -- including drug possession -- or merely having admitted to have committed such crimes. The judge found Romero's guilty plea was tantamount to "admitting" he committed a crime, despite the deferred judgment and the charge being dismissed after Romero completed a three-month rehab program.

The immigration appeals court dismissed Romero's appeal in 2003. But

Ninth Circuit Appeals Court Judge Harry Pregerson's decision found that "a

conviction...expunged under a state rehabilitative statute, cannot

serve as an "admission" of a drug offense, statutorily barring a

finding of good moral character..."

The case will now be sent back to the appeals court for it to decide whether Romero will able to stay in the country legally.

H/T   |   CourthouseNews.com

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