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Imagine that you are a lawful permanent resident alien of the United States and that a trial court has found you guilty of a crime you did not commit. After new evidence establishing your innocence is found, the trial court vacates its judgment against you. Nevertheless, the Immigration and Naturalization Service subsequently succeeds in having you banished from the United States for the rest of your life due to your “conviction.”

This scenario bears a close resemblance to reality. Section 101(a)(48)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act states that:

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.

In the situation described above, once the trial court found you guilty, the judgment against you fell within this definition of “conviction,” even though the trial court’s subsequent vacation of its judgment rendered your conviction nonfinal. The only way you would not be deportable as a result of your conviction is if, for immigration purposes, there is a requirement of finality for convictions.

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