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Immigration’s Definition of “Felony” Not Adopted by Supreme Court in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder

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US Supreme CourtMinor Drug Possession Offenses Don’t Warrant “Aggravated Felony” Classification

On June 15, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court voted unanimously in Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder that a lawful permanent resident (LPR) who is convicted of minor drug possession offenses does not warrant classification as having been convicted of an “aggravated felony.” As a result, the Court held that Mr. Carachuri – Rosendo cannot be deported without an opportunity to make a case for why he should be allowed to remain in the United States. In rendering its decision, the Supreme Court reaffirmed a previous ruling in Leocal v. Ashcroft where it held that ambiguities in criminal statutes referenced in immigration laws should be construed in a non-citizen’s favor.

This decision will affect thousands of immigrants who have criminal convictions in the criminal court system and then face a separate set of rules under the federal immigration court system. While the government has been urging the Court to adopt a rule which would allow immigration authorities to reclassify a misdemeanor conviction as an aggravated felony, the Court found that Carachuri-Rosendo’s “petty simple possession offense is not typically thought of as an ‘aggravated felony.’”

“The decision is an important step toward addressing some of the absurdities of the immigration laws passed in 1996 that treat a shoplifter and a murderer in the same manner.”

Benjamin Johnson

Benjamin Johnson is the Executive Director of the American Immigration Council (AIC) in Washington, D.C.

In 1996, Congress expanded the definition of aggravated felonies – lengthening the list of crimes that could trigger deportation for an immigrant, including even minor crimes where the person did not serve any jail time. The Court in Carachuri-Rosendo made clear that while many crimes are considered felonies under immigration law, minor drug possession offenses are not aggravated felonies and will thus not be considered as such.

“The decision is an important step toward addressing some of the absurdities of the immigration laws passed in 1996 that treat a shoplifter and a murderer in the same manner,” said Benjamin Johnson, Executive Director of the American Immigration Council. Thus, the decision in Carachuri-Rosendo restores a level of measure and rationality to immigration policies that often are unnecessarily strict and unforgiving. This decision will quickly become a major presence in Immigration Courts across the country.

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BeachOswald Immigration Lawyers is a Washington DC-based law firm providing legal services to artists, business and individuals.  We have Washington, DC, Maryland (MD), Virginia (VA) and Pennsylvania (PA) licensed attorneys.

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