The Supreme Court held late last month that immigrants couldn’t be deported if they have been convicted of only relatively minor crimes involving marijuana. The decision, 7-2, was written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and held that Adrian Moncrieffe, a long-term U.S. resident from Jamaica, should have been given an opportunity to contest his deportation.
The case began when Moncrieffe was arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana. In 2008, Moncrieffe was pulled over in Georgia where the arresting officer found 1.3 grams of marijuana in his car. This amounts to only two or three marijuana cigarettes. Moncrieffe decided to plead guilty after being arrested and agreed to a deal with no jail time where the charge would be expunged if he complied with the terms of his probation. Two years later, immigration agents discovered the arrest and jailed Moncrieffe, ultimately deciding to deport him.
Immigration agents treated the drug arrest as a serious offense, which explains the expedited nature of his deportation. According to immigration guidelines, possessing such a small amount of marijuana was serious enough to be deemed an “aggravated felony,” a crime warranting automatic deportation.
The Court decided that for a marijuana offense to warrant automatic deportation then the immigrant must either be found to have sold the drug or possess more than a small amount of it. Justice Sotomayor wrote that under immigration law, a conviction that fails to establish that either remuneration or more than a small amount of marijuana was involved is not an aggravated felony.
The case means that Moncrieffe will be allowed to come back to the U.S. so that he can make his case that his deportation was unwarranted. The man has been here since he was three years old and has a life and family here, with nothing to return to in Jamaica.
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(Lee Davis is a Chattanooga attorney who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 266-0605.)