Supreme Court Ruling Negatively Impacts Immigrants With Expunged Criminal Records

If you get a crime wiped off of your record through an expungement, you’re safe from that crime being used against you in the future, right? Unfortunately, this might not be the case if you are an immigrant who is facing possible deportation, as your guilty plea from the expungement can still be used against you by the federal court that is making the deportation decision. This was made apparent from a decision issued earlier this month by the Tennessee Supreme Court. In this case, the Supreme Court determined that an immigrant who had pleaded guilty to a crime in exchange for expungement was later not eligible for post-conviction relief because of the fact that he technically did not have a “conviction” on his record. The Associated Press and The Chattanoogan reported on this decision. To read the court’s decision directly, click here.

The Tennessee Supreme Court involved a Mexican immigrant who was married to a U.S. citizen and who has been in the United States for nearly a decade. The immigrant had pleaded guilty to the charge of patronizing a prostitute in exchange for the ability to have his criminal record expunged, according to the news reports on the case. All he had to do was follow all of the court’s orders as part of the judicial diversion process. After he completed the court’s requirements, he obtained an expungement for his criminal record in January 2010 (meaning that the state cleared the crime from his record). Later in 2010, a new law called the Post-Conviction Procedure Act made it a legal requirement for lawyers to tell their immigrant clients that their immigration statuses could be harmed if they chose to plead guilty to crimes. The law provided a form of post-conviction relief for these misinformed immigrants.

Later, after the enactment of this law, the Mexican immigrant in the Tennessee case then went back and asked the court to get rid of his guilty plea since his previous lawyer did not properly inform him of the immigration-related ramifications he would face. His argument was that he never would have provided a guilty plea had he known about the negative impact. In response, the trial court ruled that the man had waited too long to try and reopen his case.

The case then moved on to the Court of Criminal Appeals, which agreed with the trial court’s decision. The Court of Criminal Appeals also stated that the case could not be reopened anyway since the expungement made it so that there was technically no “conviction” to obtain relief for. The Tennessee Supreme Court ultimately backed the appellate court’s decision. Now that the ruling has been made, an immigration judge is free to use the Mexican immigrant’s previous guilty plea as part of its consideration of whether or not to deport the man.

In its article, the Associated Press noted that this Supreme Court ruling “closes an avenue” for immigrants to undo the damage of poor legal advice they obtained in past criminal cases. The article also noted that the ruling demonstrated the disconnect between state and federal law concerning the effect of expungement on criminal records.

If you are an immigrant who is dealing with a criminal matter, it is vital that you turn to a defense attorney who actually understands how your criminal case intersects with immigration law. We can provide you with this type of legal assistance at Davis & Hoss, PC, considering that our Chattanooga criminal defense attorneys handle immigration crimes. Contact our firm today so we can provide you with high-quality counsel!