updated 12/5/2006 11:25:21 AM ET 2006-12-05T16:25:21

The Supreme Court on Tuesday made it easier for some immigrants convicted of drug possession under state law to remain in the United States rather than being subject to deportation.

In an 8-1 decision, the justices ruled in favor of an immigrant who pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting possession of drugs in South Dakota for telling someone where to obtain cocaine.

While such a crime is a felony in South Dakota, most first-time simple possession offenses are punished as misdemeanors under the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The issue before the Supreme Court was the interpretation of the federal Immigration and Nationality Act, which says immigrants found guilty of aggravated felonies are subject to deportation.

Conduct that is a felony under state law but a misdemeanor under the Controlled Substances Act is not a felony for purposes of immigration, stated the ruling by Justice David Souter.

Jose Antonio Lopez, a 16-year permanent U.S. resident, was deported to Mexico in January 2006, but could return to his wife and two children, who are U.S. citizens, one of his lawyers has said.

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