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Supreme Court invalidates deportation provision

Protecting the United States’ borders and ridding troubled communities of violent felons has been the present administration’s mandate, even as some statistics show a decrease in such crimes. Nevertheless, the current administration is determined to increase deportations of immigrant residents charged with felony offenses. In fact, the Immigration and Nationality Act has been the subject of intense debate.

The United States Supreme Court recently weighed in on the matter, invalidating a provision of the Act that would allow further deportations. In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that the provision regarding “violent crime” was unconstitutionally vague and did not necessarily apply to the crime of burglary.

The case involved a California man who had immigrated to the United States in 1993 as a teenager who had been convicted of burglary in 2007 and 2009. Federal authorities had ordered him to be deported in 2010 and refused to cancel his expulsion. The Justice Department ostensibly relied on a portion of federal law that defines violent crime as one that involves the use of force or creates a substantial risk that force would be involved in completing the crime.

At common law, burglary was defined as the breaking and entering of a dwelling at night with the intent to commit a felony, and these elements have since been codified under the California Penal Code. With that, the Court was concerned about whether burglary would be considered a violent felony given that no violence is required to be convicted of the crime, and there was no violence used by the defendant in present case.

The Court also cited confusion among lower courts regarding just what would qualify as a violent crime. Disputes among lower courts are a common reason for the Supreme Court to accept a case, and to strike down laws that are vague and ambiguous.

While the Justice Department decried the ruling as providing safe havens for violent criminals, the court’s ruling is not likely to have any effect on offenders convicted of crimes such as rape, assault, murder and other traditional violent crimes. Nevertheless, the case exemplifies the need for an experienced criminal defense attorney when facing criminal charges that can result in deportation.  

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