CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

SCOTUS Decides Lopez v Gonzales

Supreme_court_20_10From The Supreme Court on Tuesday in Lopez v. Gonzalez 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. Treating a misdemeanor under the federal law as a felony "would be so much trickery."

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented, declaring his colleagues' approach unpersuasive. "Whatever else 'illicit trafficking' might mean' in federal law, it must include anything defined as a drug trafficking crime," Thomas said.

The court dismissed the case of another immigrant whose case had been consolidated with that of Lopez. The court said its decision to accept the case of Reymundo Toledo-Flores had been improvidently granted. Rest of Article. . . [Mark Godsey]

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