Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Breaking News: Supreme Court Decides Moncrieffe v. Holder

Today, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Moncrieffe v. Holder

Here is the preview of the case.  In a nutshell:

At age 3, Adrian Moncrieffe in 1984 legally entered the United States from Jamaica with his family. He grew up and started his own family, including two children who are U.S. citizens, in the United States. Moncreiffe’s brief states that “he has almost no remaining ties to Jamaica.” In 2009, local police in Georgia pulled over Moncrieffe. Officers found 1.3 grams of marijuana in the car, roughly two-and-a-half marijuana cigarettes. (Although not an issue in the case, the facts of the police stop have the indicators of racial profiling.). The state charged Moncrieffe with possession of marijuana with intent to distribute under a broad Georgia statute that criminalizes the social sharing of small amounts of marijuana as well as the distribution of larger amounts. As a first time offender, Moncrieffe pleaded guilty and completed probation without incident. Two years after the plea bargain, U.S immigration officials detained Moncrieffe and sought to remove him from the United States, claiming that the Georgia conviction was an “aggravated felony.” Under the immigration laws, “illicit trafficking in a controlled substance,” a “felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act,” is an “aggravated felony.” The Board of Immigration Appeals ordered Moncrieffe removed. The Fifth Circuit, in an opinion by Chief Judge Edith Jones, denied a petition for review. Following Fifth Circuit precedent, the court declined to follow the Second and Third Circuits that have held that convictions like Moncrieffe’s – in which there is no finding of drug quantity or remuneration – is not an “aggravated felony.”

What is perhaps most striking about the facts of the case is that a traffic stop and conviction for possessing less than two marijuana cigarettes put Moncrieffe’s entire life in the United States in jeopardy. What also is striking is that possession of such a small quantity of marijuana can lead to a conviction under a state law prohibiting the possession with intent to distribute.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether a conviction under a state law that includes but is not limited to possession of a small amount of marijuana without remuneration may constitute an aggravated felony, notwithstanding that the record of conviction does not definitively establish that the immigrant was convicted for conduct that would constitute a felony under federal law. The Court held that an "aggravated felony" does not include a conviction under "a state criminal statute that extends to the social sharing of a small amount of marajuana." 

Justoice Sotomayor, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan wrote the majority opnion, which reversed and remanded the Fifth Circuit decision.  Justice Thomas and Justice Alito filed dissenting opinions.

Analysis of the decision to follow in the next week.

A group of Immigration Law Professors, led by Professor Alina Das, submitted an amicus brief (Download AMICUS) in the case, which is cited at p. 16 of the Moncrieffe opinion. NYU law students Pierce Suen ’13 and Jordan Wells ’13 worked on the brief.



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