- Associated Press - Thursday, November 6, 2014

PROVO, Utah (AP) - An immigrant in Utah asked the state Supreme Court on Thursday to clear his record of a marijuana possession charge that was dismissed but could still get him deported.

A lawyer for Sergio Meza said the 23-year-old did everything he was told after he was arrested with less than an ounce of marijuana. But three years later, Meza still found himself barred from applying for a green card that would give him permanent residency in the U.S.

The case exposes a complication affecting thousands of immigrants in Utah, said attorney Aaron Tarin. If it’s fixed, “many immigrants in Utah will be much, much better off,” he said.

Utah courts have a system for dismissing minor charges against low-level offenders if they complete certain requirements, but those charges still exist and can come up during federal immigration proceedings. State law allows more serious convictions to be expunged, but it doesn’t have a mechanism for clearing cases that are dismissed.

The Utah Supreme Court heard arguments in the case Thursday.

“It troubles me greatly, the notion that you could have a constitutional violation, or at least the allegation of one, and have absolutely no ability to get those before a court,” said Justice Christine Durham.

Lance Bastian, of the Utah County attorney’s office, acknowledged there should be a path to have charges like those against Meza expunged, but he said the state’s post-conviction relief law doesn’t provide it.

The Legislature may be the best place to sort out the issue, Bastian said.

“Immigrants don’t have time for that,” Tarin said. “You can be deported in 10 days.”

Meza was brought to the United States by his parents when he was 1 year old, Tarin said. When he was arrested in 2010, his defense attorney said entering a no-contest plea wouldn’t affect his immigration status. The case was dismissed after Meza paid a $1,000 fine and stayed out of trouble for the next year, according to court records.

But when Meza married a U.S. citizen and applied for a green card, he was told the charge makes him ineligible. Meza is in a deferred action program for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as minors, which keeps him from being deported, but Tarin said the threat is still hanging over his head.

Tarin is asking for a statement from a judge that would clear Meza’s record because his attorney didn’t tell him the case could affect his immigration status.

The Utah Supreme Court took the case under advisement Thursday; no immediate deadline was set for the justices to rule.

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