BIA: Michigan youthful offender adjudication is a conviction

The BIA recently held that an individual whose criminal prosecution was adjudicated through Michigan’s youthful offender process was convicted for purposes of immigration law. Matter of V-X-, 26 I&N Dec. 147 (BIA 2013) (Pauley, Guendelsberger, and Greer, Board Members). Board Member Pauley wrote the panel’s decision.

This case involved an individual who received asylum in 2004. Three years later he was prosecuted on several drug-related charges. Importantly, he fell within Michigan’s “youthful trainee” designation, Mich. Comp. Laws § 762.11, which, according to the BIA, “means that the sentencing court deferred adjudication of his guilt and ordered him to serve a term of rehabilitative probation with an eye to the eventual dismissal of the charges.” Matter of V-X-, 26 I&N Dec. at 148. The “youth trainee” status applies to individuals who plead guilty to certain offenses committed between the ages of 17 and 20. Mich. Comp. Laws § 762.11(a).

The noncitizen claimed that this designation did not meet the definition of “conviction” used for immigration law purposes. INA § 101(a)(48)(A). The Board disagreed.

It noted that a state adjudication is not a “conviction” for immigration law purposes if it corresponds to a juvenile delinquency determination under the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act (FJDA), 18 U.S.C. § 50315042. Matter of V-X-, 26 I&N Dec. at 152. The FJDA, however, applies only to state adjudications deemed civil, not criminal.

Relying on a Sixth Circuit case, Uritsky v. Gonzales, 399 F.3d 728 (6th Cir. 2005), the BIA quickly concluded that the Michigan youth trainee designation results from a criminal adjudication. Matter of V-X-, 26 I&N Dec. at 152. Though the Board does not explain why it reaches this conclusion, presumably it does so because the Michigan designation requires the defendant to plead guilty, requires the sentencing court to impose a punishment (usually involving probation, but can involve custodial supervision), Mich. Comp. Laws § 762.13, and may be revoked at the court’s discretion, Mich. Comp. Laws § 762.12. If the youthful trainee status is revoked, the court enters the guilty plea and imposes a sentence; if the youthful trainee period is completed without revocation, the criminal case is dismissed without a conviction being entered for state law purposes. Uritsky, 399 F.3d at 734; see Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 762.13-14.

Given the way that the Michigan process works, the Sixth Circuit, upon whose analysis the Board relied, concluded that youthful trainee designation is a conviction under INA § 101(a)(48)(A). Uritsky, 399 F.3d at 734-35. First, the Michigan process requires a guilty plea, thus satisfying the INA’s requirement that the “alien has entered a plea of guilty.” INA § 101(a)(48)(A)(i). Second, the state process results imposition of “some form of punishment” as required by INA § 101(a)(48)(A)(ii). Accordingly, the noncitizen in this case was deemed to have been convicted for purposes of immigration law.