The Ninth Circuit held that a stipulated facts trial is functionally equivalent to a guilty plea for purposes of eligibility for 212(c) under the Supreme Court's decision in St. Cyr. In this case, the noncitizen was charged with heroin importation and possession with intent to distribute. She had brought the heroin back to the U.S. in 1980 after using it in Thailand to manage pain from a surgery she had there. In the criminal proceedings, she waived many of her constitutional rights and agreed to a court trial where she stipulated to possession of $100k worth of heroin with the intent to use it exclusively for herself. The criminal court found her guilty of importation and not guilty of possession with intent to distribute.
DHS put her in removal proceedings in 2005 based on inadmissibility for a controlled substance offense. The immigration judge and BIA found her ineligible to waive her inadmissibility under former section 212(c), which was repealed in 1996. She would have been eligible for 212(c) if she had been put in exclusion proceedings 20 years earlier, and clearly would be eligible even now--if she had entered a guilty plea. Given retroactivity concerns, the Supreme Court determined in St. Cyr that 212(c) remains available for persons who pled guilty prior to its repeal because they presumably would be relying on its availability when they gave up their constitutional rights. The BIA held this case was distinguishable because the Tyson had a court trial instead of pleading guilty.
The Ninth Circuit held that a stipulated facts trial in these circumstances was more like a guilty plea than a contested court or jury trial, since her stipulation virtually assured her conviction on the importation count. In fact, the panel found it was akin to a no-contest plea, which the regulations specifically recognize preserves 212(c) eligibility. 8 C.F.R. § 1212.3(h). The fact that the record evidence of quid pro quo for the plea is weak is not determinative, although the government did benefit by saving resources and she received a relatively light plea.
Read the decision at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2012/01/27/08-70219.pdf.