A Collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh

Supreme Court hears arguments on immigration, criminal contempt

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Wednesday in two cases. In Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the court heard arguments on whether a person convicted under state law for simple drug possession (a federal law misdemeanor) has been "convicted" of an "aggravated felony" on the theory that he could have been prosecuted for recidivist simple possession (a federal law felony), even though there was no charge or finding of a prior conviction in his prosecution for possession. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act [text], a lawful permanent resident who has been "convicted" of an "aggravated felony" is ineligible to seek cancellation of removal. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] that a state law conviction for simple drug possession could be an "aggravated felony" if the defendant could have been charged with a felony, affirming the Board of Immigration Appeals holding that Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo is ineligible for cancellation of removal. Counsel for the petitioner, Carachuri-Rosendo argued that, "[i]ndividuals, such as Petitioner, who have been convicted of drug possession but as to whom there has been no finding of recidivism, have been convicted of a misdemeanor punishable under the Controlled Substances Act rather than a felony." Counsel for the US government argued that, "Congress's judgment here was that all aliens who engage in the same serious conduct would be treated the same for immigration purposes."

In Robertson v. United States ex rel. Watson [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the court heard arguments on whether an action for criminal contempt in a congressionally created court may constitutionally be brought in the name and pursuant to the power of a private person, rather than in the name and pursuant to the power of the US. Counsel for the petitioner, John Robertson, argued:

The United States now agrees that the fact that a criminal offense may only be prosecuted by the sovereign is a foundational premise of our Constitution. Because Mr. Robertson was prosecuted for criminal contempt in a private right of action, his prosecution was unconstitutional, a nullity in our view, and his convictions must be vacated.
Counsel for US government argued as amicus curiae on behalf of respondent that:
when a single US Attorney's Office says that the government will decide to drop a certain set of charges, that US Attorney's Office we believe is - is speaking for itself, unless there is some indication that it is speaking more widely in such a way that will bind other parts of the government.

About Paper Chase

Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

© Copyright JURIST Legal News and Research Services, Inc., 2013.