According to a new U. S. Supreme Court ruling, some legal residents arrested for possessing minor amounts of marijuana may no longer have to fear automatic deportation. This case was based upon a Georgia man who had come to America from Jamaica with his family back in 1984 when he was only three years old. Since that time, Adrian Moncrieffe got a job, married and had children.
Basic Facts of This Case
Unfortunately, Mr. Moncrieffe was arrested in 2007 for having 1.3 grams of marijuana (one-twentieth of an ounce) in his possession. What proved to be his major undoing was the Georgia statute governing punishment for marijuana possession. In a nutshell, “It doesn’t differentiate between his crime and more serious offenses.”
Based upon a report written by a U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer, “Moncrieffe was charged under Georgia law with possession with intent to distribute . . .” This statute has been applied to others like Moncrieffe who just had the equivalent of a $30 bag of weed on him when he was pulled over by Georgia law officers — as well as those clearly planning to “distribute up to 10 pounds of illicit narcotics.”
Although Moncrieffe had no prior criminal record, his lawyer failed to tell him that if he accepted the plea deal, he could face deportation. The defendant was apparently attracted to the plea because it would allow him to avoid prison and later have his conviction “expunged after five years of satisfactory probation.” (Since these events unfolded, the U. S. Supreme Court now requires lawyers to inform their clients about all deportation possibilities.)
How the Lower Court Initially Handled This Case
Once the defendant accepted his plea deal, he was jailed and deported to Jamaica. The federal government basically held that in regards to sentencing, “there was no discretion on the matter because Moncrieffe had been convicted of an aggravated felony.” Upon deportation, Moncrieffe was separated from his wife and five children.
What the U. S. Supreme Court Recently Held
What the uniquely disciplined yet compassionate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her opinion – which represents the views of six other justices – was clear and unequivocal. She said that since the amount of marijuana in this case was so small and involved no sale, Moncrieffe’s crime did “not qualify as an aggravated felony.” She also clearly stated that to hold otherwise “defies the common sense conception of these terms.” Interestingly enough, only Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented from her majority opinion.
Moncrieffe’s Future Looks Much Brighter Now
As a result of this decision, Moncrieffe is expected to petition immigration authorities for the right to return to America and his family. According to an article by NPR reporter Nina Tottenberg, “Most experts say he has an excellent chance of succeeding . . .” It’s believed his conviction under Georgia law has now been expunged from the record.
Decision May Favorably Impact Others Facing Deportation
ABC reporter Ted Hesson has said in one of his most recent articles that while this ruling “won’t bring about a major change in the immigration system . . . it could affect the outcome in hundreds of similar cases each year.” Hesson also pointed out the following key part of Justice Soto Mayor’s majority opinion that’s been quoted in The New York Times. “Sharing a small amount of marijuana for no remuneration, let alone possession with intent to do so, does not fit easily into the everyday understanding of trafficking, which ordinarily means some sort of commercial dealing.”
By Elizabeth Smith