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Lopez v. Gonzales

Supreme Court of the United States

October 3, 2006, Argued ; December 5, 2006, Decided

No. 05-547

Opinion

 [*50]  [**627] Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question raised is whether conduct made a felony under state law but a misdemeanor under the Controlled Substances Act is a "felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act." 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(2). We hold it is not.

] The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) defines the term "aggravated felony" [**628]  by a list that mentions "illicit trafficking in a controlled substance . . . including a drug trafficking crime (as defined in section 924(c) of title 18)." § 101(a)(43)(B), as added by § 7342, 102 Stat. 4469, and as amended by § 222(a), 108 Stat. 4320, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(B). The general phrase "illicit trafficking" is left undefined, but § 924(c)(2) of Title 18 identifies the subcategory by defining "drug trafficking crime" as "any felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act" or under either of two other federal statutes having no bearing on this case. Following the listing, [****8]  § 101(a)(43) of the INA provides in its penultimate sentence that "[t]he term [aggravated felony] applies to an offense described in this paragraph whether in violation of Federal or State law" or, in certain circumstances, "the law of a foreign country." 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43).

An aggravated felony on a criminal record has worse collateral effects than a felony conviction simple. Under the immigration statutes, for example, the Attorney General's discretion to cancel the removal of a person otherwise deportable does not reach a convict of an aggravated felony. § 1229b(a)(3). Nor is an aggravated felon eligible for asylum.  [*51]  §§ 1158(b)(2)(A)(ii), 1158(b)(2)(B)(i). And under the sentencing law, the Federal Guidelines attach special significance to the "aggravated felony" designation: a conviction of unlawfully entering or remaining in the United States receives an eight-level increase for a prior aggravated felony conviction, but only four levels for "any other felony." United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual § 2L1.2 (Nov. 2005) (hereinafter USSG); id., comment., n. 3 (adopting INA definition of aggravated felony).

Although petitioner Jose [****9]  Antonio Lopez entered the United States illegally in 1986, in 1990 he became a  [***470] legal permanent resident. In 1997, he was arrested on state charges in South Dakota, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting another person's possession of cocaine, and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. See S. D. Codified Laws § 22-42-5 (1988); § 22-6-1 (Supp. 1997); § 22-3-3 (1988). He was released for good conduct after 15 months.

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549 U.S. 47 *; 127 S. Ct. 625 **; 166 L. Ed. 2d 462 ***; 2006 U.S. LEXIS 9442 ****; 75 U.S.L.W. 4013; 20 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 13

JOSE ANTONIO LOPEZ, Petitioner v. ALBERTO R. GONZALES, Attorney General

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.

Lopez v. Gonzales, 417 F.3d 934, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 16569 (8th Cir. Minn., 2005)

Disposition: 417 F.3d 934, reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

felony, aggravated felony, drug trafficking, trafficking, illicit, offenses, controlled substance, misdemeanor, felony punishable, state law, Immigration, grams, classification, convicted, sentence, imprisonment, deportation, includes, cocaine, qualify, alien, federal law, possessing, marijuana, removal, simple possession, ordinary meaning, classified, Commerce, eligible

Immigration Law, Grounds for Deportation & Removal, Criminal Activity, Aggravated Felonies, Controlled Substance Offenses, Criminal Law & Procedure, Possession, Intent to Distribute, Elements, Simple Possession