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Fourth Circuit: Virginia 251 marijuana dispositions are not always convictions for immigration purposes

Jan 11, 2011 Fourth Circuit: Virginia 251 marijuana dispositions are not always convictions for immigration purposes

Today, the Fourth Circuit ruled that a marijuana disposition under Va. Code § 18.2-251 (also known as 251, which I fully discuss here) is not always a conviction for immigration purposes. Crespo v. Holder, ___ F.3d ___ (4th Cir., Jan. 11, 2011) .

We thus start with the language of the relevant statute, which provides: 

(48)(A) The term "conviction" means, with respect to an alien, a formal judgment of guilt of the alien entered by a court or, if adjudication of guilt has been withheld, where–

(i)   a judge or jury has found the alien guilty or the alien has entered a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt, and 

(ii) the judge has ordered some form of punishment, penalty, or restraint on the alien’s liberty to be imposed. 

8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(48)(A).

Crespo.

Crespo emphasized that with a 251 disposition (which disposition applies to drug possession beyond just marijuana), :

"[I]f the facts found by the court would justify a finding of guilt," the court may, "without entering a judgment of guilt," instead "defer further proceedings and place" the offender on probation. Id. In his case, Crespo pled not guilty to the offense and the judge found facts justifying a finding of guilt and deferred adjudication over the Commonwealth’s objection. Crespo was sentenced to one year of probation, which he served without incident.

Crespo conclude by saying:

Congress listed five situations in [8 U.S.C.] § 1101(a)(48)(A)(i) that constitute a sufficient finding of guilt to ensure that an alien engaged in criminal behavior. Crespo’s adjudication under the Virginia deferral statute does not satisfy any of these conditions, and as a result our inquiry must cease.

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