__ U.S. __ (2016), 14-1096, Torres v. Lynch

Docket Nº:14-1096
Citation:__ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 1619, 194 L.Ed.2d 737, 84 U.S.L.W. 4297
Opinion Judge:KAGAN, JUSTICE
Party Name:JORGE LUNA TORRES, PETITIONER v. LORETTA E. LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL
Attorney:Matthew L. Guadagno argued the cause for petitioner. Elaine J. Goldenberg argued the cause for respondent.
Judge Panel:KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, and ALITO, JJ., joined. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS and BREYER, JJ., joined. JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR, with whom JUSTICE THOMAS and JUSTICE BREYER join, dissenting.
Case Date:May 19, 2016
Court:United States Supreme Court
SUMMARY

Any alien convicted of an “aggravated felony” after entering the U.S. is deportable, ineligible for several forms of discretionary relief, and subject to expedited removal, 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), (3). An “aggravated felony” is defined as any of numerous offenses listed in Section 1101(a)(43), each of which is typically identified either as an offense “described in” a specific federal... (see full summary)

 
FREE EXCERPT

Page __

__ U.S. __ (2016)

136 S.Ct. 1619, 194 L.Ed.2d 737, 84 U.S.L.W. 4297, 26 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 151

JORGE LUNA TORRES, PETITIONER

v.

LORETTA E. LYNCH, ATTORNEY GENERAL

No. 14-1096

United States Supreme Court

May 19, 2016

Argued: November 3, 2015

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SECOND CIRCUIT

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

[194 L.Ed.2d 739] Any alien convicted of an " aggravated felony" after entering the United States is deportable, ineligible for several forms of discretionary relief, and subject to expedited removal. 8 U.S.C. § § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), (3). An " aggravated felony" is defined as any of numerous offenses listed in § 1101(a)(43), each of which is typically identified either as an offense " described in" a specific federal statute or by a generic label ( e.g., " murder" ). [194 L.Ed.2d 740] Section 1101(a)(43)'s penultimate sentence states that each enumerated crime is an aggravated felony irrespective of whether it violates federal, state, or foreign law.

Petitioner Jorge Luna Torres (Luna), a lawful permanent resident, pleaded guilty in a New York court to attempted third-degree arson. When immigration officials discovered his conviction, they initiated removal proceedings. The Immigration Judge determined that Luna's arson conviction was for an " aggravated felony" and held that Luna was therefore ineligible for discretionary relief. The Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed. It found the federal and New York arson offenses to be identical except for the former's requirement that the crime have a connection to interstate or foreign commerce. Because the federal statute's commerce element serves only a jurisdictional function, the Board held, New York's arson offense is " described in" the federal statute, 18 U.S.C. § 844(i), for purposes of determining whether an alien has been convicted of an aggravated felony. The Second Circuit denied review.

Held :

A state offense counts as a § 1101(a)(43) " aggravated felony" when it has every element of a listed federal crime except one requiring a connection to interstate or foreign commerce.

Because Congress lacks general constitutional authority to punish crimes, most federal offenses include a jurisdictional element to tie the substantive crime to one of Congress's enumerated powers. State legislatures are not similarly constrained, and so state crimes do not need such a jurisdictional hook. That discrepancy creates the issue here -- whether a state offense lacking a jurisdictional element but otherwise mirroring a particular federal offense can be said to be " described" by that offense. Dictionary definitions of the word " described" do not clearly resolve this question one way or the other. Rather, two contextual considerations decide this case: § 1101(a)(43)'s penultimate sentence and a well-established background principle that distinguishes between substantive and jurisdictional elements in criminal statutes. Pp. 4-21.

(a) Section § 1101(a)(43)'s penultimate sentence shows that Congress meant the term " aggravated felony" to capture serious crimes regardless of whether they are made illegal by the Federal Government, a State, or a foreign country. But Luna's view would substantially undercut that function by excluding from the Act's coverage all state and foreign versions of any enumerated federal offense containing an interstate commerce element. And it would do so in a particularly perverse fashion -- excluding state and foreign convictions for many of § 1101(a)(43)'s gravest crimes ( e.g., most child pornography offenses), while reaching convictions for far less harmful offenses ( e.g., operating an unlawful gambling business). Luna theorizes that such haphazard coverage might reflect Congress's belief that crimes with an interstate connection are generally more serious than those without. But it is implausible that Congress viewed the presence of an interstate commerce element as separating serious from non-serious conduct. Luna's theory misconceives the function of interstate commerce elements and runs counter to the penultimate sentence's [194 L.Ed.2d 741] central message--that the state, federal, or foreign nature of a crime is irrelevant. And his claim that many serious crimes excluded for want of an interstate commerce element would nonetheless count as § 1101(a)(43)(F) " crime[s] of violence" provides little comfort: That alternative would not include nearly all such offenses, nor even the worst ones. Pp. 7-14.

(b) The settled practice of distinguishing between substantive and jurisdictional elements in federal criminal statutes also supports reading § 1101(a)(43) to include state analogues that lack only an interstate commerce requirement. Congress uses substantive and jurisdictional elements for different reasons and does not expect them to receive identical treatment. See, e.g., United States v. Yermian, 468 U.S. 63, 68, 104 S.Ct. 2936, 82 L.Ed.2d 53. And that is true where, as here, the judicial task is to compare federal and state offenses. See Lewis v. United States, 523 U.S. 155, 165, 118 S.Ct. 1135, 140 L.Ed.2d 271. Pp. 14-19.

764 F.3d 152, affirmed.

Matthew L. Guadagno argued the cause for petitioner.

Elaine J. Goldenberg argued the cause for respondent.

KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, and ALITO, JJ., joined. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which THOMAS and BREYER, JJ., joined.

OPINION

KAGAN, JUSTICE

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA or Act) imposes certain adverse immigration consequences on an alien convicted of an " aggravated felony." The INA defines that term by listing various crimes, most of which are identified as offenses " described in" specified provisions of the federal criminal code. Immediately following that list, the Act provides that the referenced offenses are aggravated felonies irrespective of whether they are " in violation of Federal[,] State[,]" or foreign law. 108 Stat. 4322, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43). In this case, we must decide if a state crime counts as an aggravated felony when it corresponds to a specified federal offense in all ways but one--namely, the state crime lacks the interstate commerce element used in the federal statute to establish legislative jurisdiction ( i.e., Congress's power to enact the law). We hold that the absence of such a jurisdictional element is immaterial: A state crime of that kind is an aggravated felony.

I

The INA makes any alien convicted of an " aggravated felony" after entering the United States deportable. See § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Such an alien is also ineligible for several forms of discretionary relief, including cancellation of removal--an order allowing a deportable alien to remain in the country. See § 1229b(a)(3). And because of his felony, the alien faces expedited removal proceedings. See § 1228(a)(3)(A).

The Act defines the term " aggravated felony" by way of a long list of offenses, now codified at § 1101(a)(43). In all, that provision's 21 subparagraphs enumerate some 80 different crimes. In more than half of those subparagraphs, Congress specified [194 L.Ed.2d 742] the crimes by citing particular federal statutes. According to that common formulation, an offense is an aggravated felony if it is " described in," say, 18 U.S.C. § 2251 (relating to child pornography), § 922(g) (relating to unlawful gun possession), or, of particular relevance here, § 844(i) (relating to arson and explosives). 8 U.S.C. § § 1101(a)(43)(E), (I). Most of the remaining subparagraphs refer to crimes by their generic labels, stating that an offense is an aggravated felony if, for example, it is " murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor." § 1101(a)(43)(A). Following the entire list of crimes, § 1101(a)(43)'s penultimate sentence reads: " The term [aggravated felony] applies to an offense described in this paragraph whether in violation of Federal or State law and applies to such an offense in violation of the law of a foreign country for which the term of imprisonment was completed within the previous 15 years." So, putting aside the 15-year curlicue, the penultimate sentence provides that an offense listed in § 1101(a)(43) is an aggravated felony whether in violation of federal, state, or foreign law.

Petitioner Jorge Luna Torres, who goes by the name George Luna, immigrated to the United States as a child and has lived here ever since as a lawful permanent resident. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to attempted arson in the third degree, in violation of New York law; he was sentenced to one day in prison and five years of probation. Seven years later...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP