The Board held that immigration judges may NOT go beyond the record of conviction to determine whether a crime involves moral turpitude if the record of conviction conclusively establishes it did not. This is an often overlooked corollary of the Attorney General's decision in Silva-Trevino. (See my post at http://crimeandimmigrationlawyer.com/blog/2011/03/01/matter-of-samuel-esaul-guevara-alfaro/.)
In Ahortalejo-Guzman, the respondent was convicted of simple assault, and the criminal court specifically noted that the conviction did not involve family violence. Simple assault is not a crime of moral turpitude. The immigration judge, however, went beyond the conviction documents to consider police reports and testimony. The police reports and testimony indicated the respondent committed a crime of domestic violence. The IJ found that the domestic violence involved moral turpitude and denied the respondent relief from removal based on that.
The Board held the IJ erred. It cited Silva-Trevino, which stated that an IJ could consider evidence outside the record of conviction only after determining that the record of conviction documents were ambiguous as to whether the offense involved moral turpitude. It noted that this sequential, hierarchical approach "serves the important function of recognizing and preserving the results of a plea bargain, where the parties, with the consent of a trial judge, agree to allow the defendant to plead to a less serious crime."
This case is a bit unusual, however, since the criminal court specifically found that the offense did not involve family violence. It remains to be seen whether something this explicit is necessary, although it certainly should be considered a best practice in making a plea now.
Read the opinion at http://www.justice.gov/eoir/vll/intdec/vol25/3709.pdf.