Immigration law has developed into a legal field that is unique in many regards. Legislative acts, court precedents and legal protocols have combined to make immigration case law a specialty that requires intimate knowledge and experience of the immigration system. As an immigration attorney in Texas, I am always eager to learn more about how judges, attorney and government officials respond to new issues.
In the case of United States v. Medina, Ever Enrique Medina, an El Salvadoran native, was found guilty of several offenses over the course of a number of years. In 2004, Medina pled guilty to concealed weapons and possession of marijuana charges. For these offenses he was sentenced to 18 months of probation, a diversionary disposition. He was later charged with driving under the influence for which he was deported. After returning to the U.S. illegally he was convicted of driving without a license and sentenced to sixty days in jail. Finally, he was arrested for second degree assault and sentenced to five years of probation. This initiated unlawful reentry proceedings, which resulted in four-level enhancement. The enhancement in this case was a thirty month incarceration prior to deportation.
Medina appealed the four-level enhancement which was based in part upon the diversionary disposition. He argued that this probationary sentence should not be considered a felony conviction. Having occurred in Maryland, where state law does not consider a probationary sentence as a felony conviction, Medina argued that this offense should not contribute to any enhancements to his current sentence.
The district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals denied that Maryland law would have any import in this sentencing decision. Although sentencing guidelines may me influenced in some minor way by state laws, federal laws must take precedence. In this case a guilty plea was issued by Medina at the time, making him guilty of the felony offense. The Fourth Circuit cited several cases including Shepard v. United States, Kercheval v. United States and Florida v. Nixon where a plea before judgment constituted a felony conviction.
Furthermore, Congress has specifically designated diversionary dispositions as convictions which may be considered when determining punitive sentences. The Fourth Circuit relied upon prior immigration cases like United States v. Ramirez, where deferred adjudication probation was considered a conviction in immigration violation sentencing.
Although Medina attempted to convince the district court and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that his probationary sentence did not qualify as a felony conviction, the enormous wall of precedents and federal laws was a barrier too high to overcome. The thirty month sentence was affirmed as appropriate to the circumstances.
As an immigration attorney, I recognize that few immigration cases present an opportunity to reshape the entire legal system. The lesson of United States v. Medina is that it is usually unwise to attempt to argue against a judgment if there is clear and significant case law supporting the opposing position. If you or someone you know has questions or concerns about immigration case law, please feel free to contact my office at (512) 215-5225 to schedule a private consultation.