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Amy L. Howe, Jan. 13, 2023
"Pugin v. Garland and Garland v. Cordero-Garcia
In a pair of immigration cases that have been consolidated for oral argument, the justices agreed to decide whether a criminal offense that does not interfere with an existing investigation or judicial proceeding qualifies as an “offense relating to obstruction of justice,” a serious crime that can result in deportation and additional criminal punishment for noncitizens.
The petitioner in the first case is Jean Francois Pugin, a citizen of Mauritius who has lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for nearly 40 years. After Pugin pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact to a felony and was sentenced to 12 months in prison (nine of which were suspended), the federal government began efforts to deport him on the ground that he had been convicted of an aggravated felony. The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed that Pugin’s state conviction qualified as an “offense relating to obstruction of justice,” and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit upheld that decision.
The second petition for review was filed by the Biden administration in the case of Fernando Cordero-Garcia, a citizen of Mexico who came to the United States as a lawful permanent resident in 1965. In 2007, Cordero-Garcia was arrested and charged in connection with the sexual assaults of patients whom he treated in his role as a psychologist for Santa Barbara County, California. He was convicted in a California state court on several charges, including two for discouraging a witness from reporting a crime.
In 2011, immigration authorities sought to deport Cordero-Garcia, arguing (among other things) that his convictions for discouraging a witness were convictions for an offense relating to the obstruction of justice. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled against the government, reasoning that there was no connection to an existing investigation.
Both Pugin and the Biden administration came to the Supreme Court last year, asking the justices to weigh in. The court agreed on Friday to consider both cases at the same time, but it rejected Pugin’s request to decide whether, if the phrase “offense relating to obstruction of justice” is ambiguous, courts should defer to the BIA’s interpretation of that phrase."