At the end of April, the Supreme Court issued a significant decision with far reaching implications for aliens charged with criminal offenses, particularly drug ones. The case is Moncrieffe v. Holder.
Mr. Moncrieffe was pulled over by the police, who found two to three cigarettes worth of marijuana in the car. He was subsequently charged with violating a Georgia criminal statute that criminalized the sharing of marijuana, to which he pled guilty and received a sentence of probation. Unfortunately, while his crime may not have been a serious one in the criminal law context, it certainly was taken seriously by DHS, which subsequently placed him into removal proceedings and charged him with being deportable as an aggravated felon.
In simple terms, the Court ruled that the statute to which Mr. Moncrieffe pled guilty to was not an aggravated felony because it failed the categorical test. In this case, the Court analyzed the Georgia state statute and compared it to a federal statute criminalizing controlled dangerous substances. Because a conviction under the Georgia did not necessarily constitute a conviction under the federal Controlled Substances Act, they were not a categorical match. The Georgia statute in question was more broad than the federal one, and it was unclear whether the crime involved remuneration or more than a small amount, which would render the crime a federal felony as opposed to a felony misdemeanor.
The case is definitely worth examining because its reach extends far beyond drug offenses. It clearly establishes the importance of the categorical test and how strictly the highest court in the land expects it to be applied. For aliens charged with deportability, it is an especially important decision.