Deportation, Deportation, Deportation — The Dramatic Rule Change for Non-Citizens charged with Drug Crimes in California

I frequently meet with clients who want to know how a conviction in their California state court criminal case will impact their immigration status.  Drug cases in particular have very harsh and unforgiving immigration consequences for non-citizens who suffer a conviction.  Even non-citizens present in the United States legally (such as green card holders) can face severe immigration consequences from a drug conviction.

For 11 years the case of Lujan-Armendariz v. INS (2000) 222 F.3d 728 had held that an expunged conviction for simple possession of drugs did not constitute a “conviction” for immigration purposes. Therefore, a non-citizen could escape the harsh immigration consequences of a conviction in their drug possession case by entering a drug treatment program pursuant to Penal Code 1000 or Prop 36. These statutes allow a person’s California drug case to be expunged upon successful completion of the drug treatment program. Once the case was expunged, the courts stated that there was no longer a “conviction” for immigration law purposes.

On July 14, 2011, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Lujan-Armendariz, as well as all subsequent cases bound by stare decisis which followed the Lujan-Armendariz rule. The new rule, announced in the case of Nunez-Reyes v. Holder (9th Cir. 2011) 646 F.3d 684, states exactly the opposite.  Specifically, the 9th Circuit in Nunez-Reyes held that a first-time simple drug possession offense expunged under a state rehabilitative statute is a conviction under the immigration laws. The Court observed that Congress intended that convictions for state-law simple possession of drugs have adverse immigration consequences.

What this means is that non-citizens accused of simple drug possession in California will now face deportation and other harsh immigration consequences even if the conviction is expunged pursuant to PC 1000 or Prop 36, because the the expunged conviction is still a “conviction” for immigration purposes. Non-citizens facing drug charges now have more to lose than ever.

If you or someone you know is facing drug charges and is not a U.S. citizen, it is critical that you immediately contact a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney who understands the immigration impact a conviction would have. The attorneys at the X-Law Group, P.C. frequently handle criminal defense cases for non-citizens.  We currently handle drug cases in all Southern California courts, including Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. If you would like more information on how we may help you, please do not hesitate to contact us.  We offer free consultations and affordable payment plans. Give us a call at 213-223-2232 and visit our website at


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