23 April 2013

Law in Plain English: Moncrieffe v. Holder

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.


Moncrieffe, a Jamaican native and legal permanent resident in the United States, pled guilty to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute under Georgia law. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sought to have Moncrieffe removed under a federal law that requires removal (deportation) for controlled substances offenses; and "as an aggravated felon" because the conviction was for a drug trafficking crime. Moncrieffe alleged that the punishment for his crime was equivalent to a misdemeanor, and as a result he shouldn't be subject to removal. The question before the Court was whether Moncrieffe's conviction under Georgia's law constituted an aggravated felony for the purposes of removal. In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Moncrieffe’s conviction for a marijuana distribution offense faild to establish that the offense involved either remuneration or more than a small amount of marijuana. Therefore, it was not an aggravated felony. As a result, Moncrieffe's conviction will not subject him to automatic deportation. The practical impact of this decision (and two others like it in recent years) is that low-level drug offenses, absent remuneration or a sufficient quantity of drugs so to be considered trafficking, will not be subject to automatic deportation.
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