Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder: Supreme Court Further Defines 'Aggravated Felonies'

Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder: Supreme Court Further Defines 'Aggravated Felonies'

 By Jennifer M. Chacón, Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, School of Law, University of California-Irvine

Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, 2010 U.S. LEXIS 4764 (U.S. June 14, 2010), is one of several recent cases on the intersection of criminal law and immigration law. Here, a long-time legal immigrant had two minor drug convictions (a total of 30 days in prison), both misdemeanors in the Texas courts. When the immigration agency tried to remove him as an "aggravated felon," the entire U.S. Supreme Court rejected the argument. Jennifer Chacón explains the significance.

“On June 14, 2010, the Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder. The case is worthy of note for several reasons,” explains Jennifer M. Chacón. “First, it clarifies one aspect of the immigration law's complicated "aggravated felony" definition. The case also highlights the extreme complexity and sometimes surprisingly harsh nature of federal immigration law. Finally, the Supreme Court's 9-0 decision in favor of the noncitizen provides an opportunity to reflect upon other recent developments in the Supreme Court's recent immigration jurisprudence. This article therefore both analyzes the Carachuri-Rosendo case and uses it as a vehicle for exploring each of these issues. Part 1 provides background on the case. Part II presents the holding and reasoning of the case. Part III suggests some of the larger themes implicated in the decision.”

“Taken together, Carachuri-Rosendo and the earlier Lopez case provide important guidance to immigration courts seeking to determine the applicability of the aggravated felony provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act in cases involving state drug offenses. Specifically, the court should look to the state conviction to determine whether the drug offense for which the noncitizen actually was convicted would have been punishable as a felony under the federal Controlled Substances Act. If the answer is no, the Lopez decision makes clear that the conviction does not qualify as for an aggravated felony for immigration purposes. If the answer is that the defendant could have been — but was not — convicted of a greater offense that would have qualified as an aggravated felony, the Carachuri-Rosendo decision makes clear that this fact is insufficient to elevate the offense to an aggravated felony for immigration purposes. The court must look to the actual conviction, not to any convictions that might have been possible.”

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Jennifer Chacón, a graduate of Yale Law School and Stanford University, is the Senior Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, School of Law, University of California-Irvine.

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