The inquiry into whether a statute operates retroactively demands a commonsense, functional judgment about whether the new provision attaches new legal consequences to events completed before its enactment. The judgment whether a particular statute acts retroactively should be informed and guided by familiar considerations of fair notice, reasonable reliance, and settled expectations.
In March 1996, an alien, who had been admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident, pled guilty to selling a controlled substance in violation of Connecticut law. His subsequent conviction on this charge made him deportable. At the time of his conviction, the alien would have been eligible, under 212(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act for waiver of deportation at the discretion of the United States Attorney General. However, by the time removal proceedings were commenced against the accused, 212(c) had been repealed and replaced by legislation, under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (110 Stat 1214) and the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (110 Stat 3009-546). In the Attorney General's view, this did not give the Attorney General discretion to waive deportation of aliens such as the alien in question. The alien, in a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, alleged that because he pled guilty before 212(c) was repealed and the new legislation went into effect, the new legislation did not apply to him. A Federal District Court accepted jurisdiction of the alien's habeas corpus application and determined that the new legislation did not apply to the alien. The United States Courts of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed.
Does the new legislation on deportation apply to an alien who pled guilty before the enactment of the new legislation?
The Court affirmed the district court’s decision and held that statutory restrictions on discretionary relief from deportation that was brought against respondent alien do not apply to the said alien because he had pled guilty to a deportable crime before the new statutory enactments. The Court concluded that the district courts retained habeas jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.S. § 2241 because interpreting the cited amendments to entirely precluded review raised substantial constitutional questions under the Suspension Clause. Moreover, the Court posited that the cited amendments did not contain a clear and unambiguous statement of constitutional intent to bar jurisdiction pursuant to § 2241, nor did they provide another judicial forum to decide pure questions of law. As such, the Court determined that the relief remained available for the alien, who was convicted pursuant to a plea agreement and who was eligible for relief at the time of his plea, because nothing in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act unmistakably indicated that the repeal applied retroactively.