Moncrieffe v. Holder

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Immigration
  • Date Filed: April 23, 2013
  • Case #: 11-702
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Sotomayor, J., delivered the Court's opinion, joined by Roberts, C.J., Scalia, Kennedy, Ginsberg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ, Alito and Thomas, JJ, filed separate dissenting opinions.
  • Full Text Opinion

A charge of aggravated, felonious distribution of marijuana cannot be leveled against a non-citizen when there is a failure to establish remuneration or if the amount of marijuana is small.

Petitioner, a lawful permanent resident of the United States was arrested while in possession of marijuana. Petitioner pled guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. The Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings against Petitioner. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act an alien convicted of an aggravated felony is subject to removal from the United States.

The Immigration court found Petitioner's conviction to be an aggravated felony based on both state law and federal law. Petitioner appealed, arguing that possessing such a small amount of marijuana should be considered a misdemeanor, not a felony. The Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed the appeal and the order of removal was upheld.

The Supreme Court reversed, remanded and held the Government's characterization of a low-level drug offense as “illicit trafficking in a controlled substance” and an "aggravated felony" violates the commonsense conception of these terms. Sharing a small amount of marijuana for no remuneration “does not fit easily into the ‘everyday understanding’” of drug trafficking. The Court further held a statute which criminalizes an offense only classified as a misdemeanor under the Controlled Substance Act is insensible.

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