Here in Georgia a Defendant was stopped by the police, who thereafter found 1.3 grams of marijuana. Because of our State’s relatively harsh drug laws, he was forced to plead guilty to drug distribution, although his lawyers were able to get the conviction expunged if the Defendant successfully completed a period of probation. However, the Defendant was not a U.S. Citizen. Two years later, immigration authorities threw him into custody to begin deportation proceedings. After a fight that took several more years, the United States Supreme Court yesterday held that this man was not automatically subject to deportation. The Supreme Court said that not all marijuana distribution offenses rise to the level of being an “aggravated felony”, which in the immigration context means that the person is just about automatically deportable. The case is Moncrieffe v. Holder.
Mr. Moncrieffe is originally from Jamaica, but has legally lived here in the U.S. for many years. His lawyers faced the same dilemma we face when representing aliens accused of crimes, the question of whether a guilty plea might make the person subject to deportation (or “removal” as the term is now called). Like many people, Mr. Moncrieffe seemed ready to accept a deal that called for no jail time and expungement. Little did he know that the feds wanted to kick him out of the country for this relatively minor offense.