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Joseph Cristopher Young v. Holder

This en banc decision has disastrous consequences for many immigrants who entered guilty or no contest pleas in reliance on Ninth Circuit precedent from the last 5 years. The Ninth Circuit had held in Sandoval-Lua v. Gonzales that an immigrant is eligible to apply for legal status or discretionary relief from removal unless his or her record of conviction clearly shows conviction of a disqualifying offense. This is critical because some criminal statutes cover both conduct that would disqualify a person and conduct that would not disqualify a person. If the record of conviction is ambiguous regarding the offense pled to, Sandoval-Lua had held the immigrant was not disqualified. Young reversed this holding. It held the record must clearly show the person was not convicted of a disqualifying offense.

Moreover, the "record of conviction" includes only the charging instrument, transcript of the plea colloquy, plea agreement, and comparable judicial records of this information. That means police reports, probable cause declarations, the applicant's testimony, etc., cannot be used to show that the person was not convicted of a disqualifying crime. Thus, if the record of conviction is not clear, the Ninth Circuit now holds the applicant cannot establish eligibility.

On the other hand, if the government must establish deportability or inadmissibility (as in many cases regarding lawful permanent residents), then Young held an ambiguous record will prevent the government from meeting its burden.

The one beneficial holding from Young is that a plea to a conjunctively phrased count does not necessarily admit all of the alleged ways of violating the statute. In other words, a plea to a count that alleges sale, transportation, and offering to sell a controlled substance does not equal an admission of all of those offenses. The court recognized that prosecutors often allege commission of all of the various offenses covered by a statute despite only needing prove the defendant committed one of them. Young thus overruled the contrary holding in United States v. Snellenberger, 548 F.3d 699 (9th Cir. 2008) (en banc) (per curiam).