April 23, 2013
Moncrieffe v. Holder
Docket No. 11-702
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), a noncitizen convicted of an “aggravated felony” is deportable and ineligible for discretionary relief. The INA lists as an aggravated felony “illicit trafficking in a controlled substance,” which includes the conviction of an offense that the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) makes punishable as a felony, i.e., by more than one year’s imprisonment. A conviction under state law constitutes a felony punishable under the CSA only if it proscribes conduct punishable as a felony under that federal law.
Petitioner Moncrieffe, a Jamaican citizen here legally, was found by police to have 1.3 grams of marijuana in his car. He pleaded guilty under Georgia law to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. The Federal Government sought to deport him, reasoning that his conviction was an aggravated felony because possession of marijuana with intent to distribute is a CSA offense. An Immigration Judge ordered Moncrieffe removed, and the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed. The Fifth Circuit denied Moncrieffe’s petition for review, rejecting his argument that marijuana distribution is punishable as a misdemeanor under federal law if the offense involves a small amount for no remuneration, and holding that the felony provision provides the default punishment for his offense.
The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, holding that 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, it is not an aggravated felony under the INA.
Justice Sotomayor delivered the opinion of the Court. Justice Thomas and Justice Alito filed dissenting opinions.