Crimes of Moral Turpitude


§ 10.7 (A)

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State and Federal.  The BIA cannot “look behind” a state court order to determine whether the court acted in conformity with state law, but must instead afford “full faith and credit” to the judgment.[61] 


The Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution,[62] and the parallel federal statute,[63] require courts to give full effect to state court orders, which “shall be presumed to have been rightly done, till the contrary appears . . . .  Every matter adjudicated, becomes a part of their record; which thenceforth proves itself, without referring to the evidence on which it has been adjudged.”[64]


The “full faith and credit clause” of the Constitution is binding only upon state courts. [65]  Congress, however, by statute has also imposed the duty on federal courts to give full faith and credit to judgments of state courts.[66] 


The BIA held that, because of “full faith and credit,” the immigration courts must accept that a state court vacated a judgment on grounds of a legal defect, and cannot “go behind” the state court judgment to determine whether the state court complied with its own laws in those proceedings.[67]  The judgment in that case stated that it was vacating the conviction “on the legal merits, as if said conviction had never occurred” pursuant to New York Criminal Procedure law Article 440, but did not state the specific grounds for vacating the judgment.   Notably, that statute provides a number of grounds on which a judgment can be vacated, but does not provide for expungement or dismissal due to “rehabilitation.”[68]

[61] Matter of Rodriguez-Ruiz, 22 I. & N. Dec. 1378 (BIA 2000) (vacated conviction will not constitute a conviction for immigration purposes so long as it is not vacated under a state rehabilitative statute); Renteria-Gonzalez v. INS, 322 F.3d 804 (5th Cir. Feb. 27, 2003) (amending opinion on denial of rehearing) (“[T]he INS cannot collaterally attack the Order To Vacate, even for want of jurisdiction, because it did not directly appeal that order in 1992 . . . .”), citing Chicot County Drainage Dist. v. Baxter State Bank, 308 U.S. 371, 377, 60 S.Ct. 317 (1940) (holding that a “decree sustaining [subject matter] jurisdiction against attack, while open to direct review, is res judicata in a collateral action”); Royal Ins. Co. of Am. v. Quinn-L Capital Corp., 960 F.2d 1286, 1293 (5th Cir. 1992) (“If the parties against whom judgment was rendered did not appeal, the judgment becomes final and the court’s subject matter jurisdiction is insulated from collateral attack.”).  See also Lory Rosenberg, Recognition of Vacation of Conviction and Matter of Pickering: Comity or Tragedy?, 8 Bender’s Imm. Bull. 1103, 1107 (July 1, 2003).

[62] United States Constitution, Art IV, § 1.

[63] 28 U.S.C. § 1738.

[64] Voorhees v. Jackson, 35 U.S. 449, 472 (1836).

[65] United States Constitution, Art IV, § 1.

[66] 28 U.S.C. § 1738.

[67] Matter of Rodriguez-Ruiz, 22 I. & N. Dec. 1378 (BIA 2000).

[68] New York Ann. Crim. Proc. Laws § 440.10; see Matter of Pickering, 23 I. & N. Dec. 621, 623 (BIA 2003).