Monday, April 29, 2013

State Conviction for Possession with Intent to Distribute for No Remuneration Is Not Aggravated Felony

Moncrieffe v. Holder, No. 11-702 (Apr. 23, 2013) (Justice Sotomayor, majority)

Applying (and celebrating) the categorical approach, the Supreme Court held that a state conviction for possession with intent to distribute (for no remuneration) a small amount of marijuana does not constitute "illicit trafficking in a controlled substance" under section 1101(a)(43) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and is thus not an aggravated felony subjecting a noncitizen to mandatory deportation and ineligibility for certain forms of discretionary relief.

The Court concluded:
This is the third time in seven years that we have considered whether the Government has properly characterized a low-level drug offense as "illicit trafficking in a controlled substance," and thus an "aggravated felony." Once again we hold that the Government’s approach defies "the ‘commonsense conception’" of these terms. Carachuri-Rosendo, 560 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9) (quoting Lopez, 549 U. S., at 53). Sharing a small amount of marijuana for no remuneration, let alone possession with intent to do so, "does not fit easily into the ‘everyday understanding’" of "trafficking," which "‘ordinarily . . . means some sort of commercial dealing.’" Carachuri-Rosendo, 560 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 9) (quoting Lopez, 549 U. S., at 53–54). Nor is it sensible that a state statute that criminalizes conduct that the [Controlled Substances Act] treats as a misdemeanor should be designated an "aggravated felony." We hold that it may not be. If a noncitizen’s conviction for a marijuana distribution offense fails to establish that the offense involved either remuneration or more than a small amount of marijuana, the conviction is not for an aggravated felony under the INA.

Here, Adrian Moncrieffe possessed 1.3 grams of marijuana, which was accepted as a "small amount." Because the meaning of "small amount" was not at issue, the Court did not define the term "small amount."

Justice Thomas, joined by Justice Alito, dissented.

Thanks to Jennifer Niles Coffin, Research & Writing Attorney for the FPD Sentencing Resource Counsel Project, for the summary. See the case page on scotusblog for more info.

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