Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Lopez v. Gonzalez case brief

Lopez v. Gonzalez case brief summary
127 S. Ct. 625 (2006)

The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) began removal proceedings against petitioner resident, on two grounds: that his state conviction was a controlled substance violation, 8 U.S.C.S. § 1227(a)(2)(B)(i), and was also for an aggravated felony, § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed his removal. The Court granted certiorari to resolve a conflict in the circuits.

Although the resident entered the United States illegally in 1986, in 1990 he became a legal permanent resident. In 1997, he was arrested on state charges in South Dakota, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting another person's possession of cocaine, and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. After his release, the INS began removal proceedings.


  • The Court noted that the everyday understanding of "trafficking" should count for a lot because the relevant statutes did not define the term and that ordinarily "trafficking" meant some sort of commercial dealing. 
  • Commerce, however, was not part of the South Dakota offense of helping someone else to possess. 
  • The Court held that an offense that necessarily counted as illicit trafficking under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) was a drug trafficking crime under18 U.S.C.S. § 924(c), i.e., a felony punishable under the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C.S. § 801 et seq. 
  • Because the South Dakota offense was not punishable as a federal felony it did not count for removal purposes.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion.

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