Judges in Virginia may not use an obscure writ to reopen the cases of immigrants who say they weren't told that a criminal conviction could lead to their deportation, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday, according to the Washington Post. The high court's ruling came in an Alexandria case in which a Circuit Court judge revisited a 12-year-old case involving a permanent legal resident from Liberia. The defendant had pleaded guilty to embezzling $15,000 and was sentenced to one year in jail. Even immigrants with legal status, or “green cards,” are subject to deportation for crimes involving sentences of a year or more, and when the man applied for citizenship years later, he was ordered deported.
The man, Emmanuel Morris, said his attorney told him in 1997 that his plea would not affect his permanent residency. Revisiting the case in 2009, Alexandria Circuit Court Judge Donald M. Haddock reduced Morris's sentence to 364 days, making him ineligible for deportation. Similarly, a Norfolk Circuit Court judge in 2009 retroactively reduced permanent resident Wellyn Chan's 2005 sentence for misdemeanor assault from a year to 360 days. But Virginia's rules on post-trial relief are strict: a 21-day period to file post-trial motions, and up to two years to file a habeas corpus motion, which may be filed only by a defendant in custody. The ruling took that into account.