__ U.S. __, 15-1498, Sessions v. Dimaya

Docket Nº:15-1498
Citation:__ U.S. __, 138 S.Ct. 1204, 200 L.Ed.2d 549, 86 U.S.L.W. 4189, 27 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 161
Opinion Judge:KAGAN, Justice.
Party Name:Jefferson B. SESSIONS, III, Attorney General, Petitioner v. James Garcia DIMAYA.
Attorney:Edwin S. Kneedler, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner. E. Joshua Rosenkranz, New York, NY, for Respondent. Ian Heath Gershengorn, Acting Solicitor General, Benjamin C. Mizer, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Edwin S. Kneedler, Deputy Solicitor General, John F. Bash, Assistant to the Sol...
Judge Panel:Justice KAGAN, joined by Justice GINSBURG, Justice BREYER, and Justice SOTOMAYOR, concluded in Parts II and IV-A: KAGAN, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III, IV-B, and V, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and GORSUCH, JJ....
Case Date:April 17, 2018
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page __

__ U.S. __

138 S.Ct. 1204, 200 L.Ed.2d 549, 86 U.S.L.W. 4189, 27 Fla.L.Weekly Fed. S 161

Jefferson B. SESSIONS, III, Attorney General, Petitioner


James Garcia DIMAYA.

No. 15-1498

United States Supreme Court

April 17, 2018

Argued Jan. 17, 2017.

[138 S.Ct. 1207] Syllabus [*]

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) virtually guarantees that any alien convicted of an "aggravated felony" after entering the United States will be deported. See 8 U.S.C. § § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), 1229b(a)(3), (b)(1)(C). An aggravated felony includes "a crime of violence (as defined in [18 U.S.C. § 16] ...) for which the term of imprisonment [is] at least one year." § 1101(a)(43)(f). Section 16’s definition of a crime of violence is divided into two clauses— often referred to as the elements clause, § 16(a), and the residual clause, § 16(b). The residual clause, the provision at issue here, defines a "crime of violence" as "any other offense that is a felony and that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense." To decide whether a person’s conviction falls within the scope of that clause, courts apply the categorical approach. This approach has courts ask not whether "the particular facts" underlying a conviction created a substantial risk, Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 7, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271, nor whether the statutory elements of a crime require the creation of such a risk in each and every case, but whether "the ordinary case" of an offense poses the requisite risk, James v. United States, 550 U.S. 192, 208, 127 S.Ct. 1586, 167 L.Ed.2d 532.

Respondent James Dimaya is a lawful permanent resident of the United States with two convictions for first-degree burglary under California law. After his second offense, the Government sought to deport him as an aggravated felon. An Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals held that California first-degree burglary is a "crime of violence" under § 16(b). While Dimaya’s appeal was pending in the Ninth Circuit, this Court held that a similar residual clause in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA)— defining "violent felony" as any felony that "otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another," 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)— was unconstitutionally "void for vagueness" under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. __, __, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 2561-2563, 192 L.Ed.2d 569. Relying on Johnson, the Ninth Circuit held that § 16(b), as incorporated into the INA, was also unconstitutionally vague.

Held : The judgment is affirmed.

803 F.3d 1110, affirmed.

Justice KAGAN delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III, IV-B, and V, concluding that § 16’s residual clause is unconstitutionally vague. Pp. 1213 - 1216, 1218 - 1223.

(a) A straightforward application of Johnson effectively resolves this case. Section 16(b) has the same two features as ACCA’s residual clause— an ordinary-case requirement and an ill-defined risk threshold— combined in the same constitutionally problematic way. To begin, ACCA’s residual clause created "grave uncertainty about how to estimate the risk posed by a crime" because it "tie[d] the judicial assessment [138 S.Ct. 1208] of risk" to a speculative hypothesis about the crime’s "ordinary case," but provided no guidance on how to figure out what that ordinary case was. 576 U.S., at __, 135 S.Ct., at 2557. Compounding that uncertainty, ACCA’s residual clause layered an imprecise "serious potential risk" standard on top of the requisite "ordinary case" inquiry. The combination of "indeterminacy about how to measure the risk posed by a crime [and] indeterminacy about how much risk it takes for the crime to qualify as a violent felony," id., at __, 135 S.Ct., at 2558, resulted in "more unpredictability and arbitrariness than the Due Process Clause tolerates," id., at __, 135 S.Ct., at 2558. Section 16(b) suffers from those same two flaws. Like ACCA’s residual clause, § 16(b) calls for a court to identify a crime’s "ordinary case" in order to measure the crime’s risk but "offers no reliable way" to discern what the ordinary version of any offense looks like. Id., at __, 135 S.Ct., at 2558. And its "substantial risk" threshold is no more determinate than ACCA’s "serious potential risk" standard. Thus, the same "[t]wo features" that "conspire[d] to make" ACCA’s residual clause unconstitutionally vague also exist in § 16(b), with the same result. Id., at __, 135 S.Ct., at 2557. Pp. 1213 - 1216.

(b) The Government identifies three textual discrepancies between ACCA’s residual clause and § 16(b) that it claims make § 16(b) easier to apply and thus cure the constitutional infirmity. None, however, relates to the pair of features that Johnson found to produce impermissible vagueness or otherwise makes the statutory inquiry more determinate. Pp. 1218 - 1223.

(1) First, the Government argues that § 16(b)’s express requirement (absent from ACCA) that the risk arise from acts taken "in the course of committing the offense," serves as a "temporal restriction"— in other words, a court applying § 16(b) may not "consider risks arising after " the offense’s commission is over. Brief for Petitioner 31. But this is not a meaningful limitation: In the ordinary case of any offense, the riskiness of a crime arises from events occurring during its commission, not events occurring later. So with or without the temporal language, a court applying the ordinary case approach, whether in § 16’s or ACCA’s residual clause, would do the same thing— ask what usually happens when a crime is committed. The phrase "in the course of" makes no difference as to either outcome or clarity and cannot cure the statutory indeterminacy Johnson described.

Second, the Government says that the § 16(b) inquiry, which focuses on the risk of "physical force," "trains solely" on the conduct typically involved in a crime. Brief for Petitioner 36. In contrast, ACCA’s residual clause asked about the risk of "physical injury," requiring a second inquiry into a speculative "chain of causation that could possibly result in a victim’s injury." Ibid. However, this Court has made clear that "physical force" means "force capable of causing physical pain or injury." Johnson v. United States, 559 U.S. 133, 140, 130 S.Ct. 1265, 176 L.Ed.2d 1. So under § 16(b) too, a court must not only identify the conduct typically involved in a crime, but also gauge its potential consequences. Thus, the force/injury distinction does not clarify a court’s analysis of whether a crime qualifies as violent.

Third, the Government notes that § 16(b) avoids the vagueness of ACCA’s residual clause because it is not preceded by a "confusing list of exemplar crimes." Brief for Petitioner 38. Those enumerated crimes were in fact too varied to assist this Court in giving ACCA’s residual clause meaning. But to say that they failed to resolve the clause’s vagueness is hardly to [138 S.Ct. 1209] say they caused the problem. Pp. 1218 - 1223.

(2) The Government also relies on judicial experience with § 16(b), arguing that because it has divided lower courts less often and resulted in only one certiorari grant, it must be clearer than its ACCA counterpart. But in fact, a host of issues respecting § 16(b)’s application to specific crimes divide the federal appellate courts. And while this Court has only heard oral arguments in two § 16(b) cases, this Court vacated the judgments in a number of other § 16(b) cases, remanding them for further consideration in light of ACCA decisions. Pp. 1221 - 1223.

Justice KAGAN, joined by Justice GINSBURG, Justice BREYER, and Justice SOTOMAYOR, concluded in Parts II and IV-A:

(a) The Government argues that a more permissive form of the void-for-vagueness doctrine applies than the one Johnson employed because the removal of an alien is a civil matter rather than a criminal case. This Court’s precedent forecloses that argument. In Jordan v. De George, 341 U.S. 223, 71 S.Ct. 703, 95 L.Ed. 886, the Court considered what vagueness standard applied in removal cases and concluded that, "in view of the grave nature of deportation," the most exacting vagueness standard must apply. Id., at 231, 71 S.Ct. 703. Nothing in the ensuing years calls that reasoning into question. This Court has reiterated that deportation is "a particularly severe penalty," which may be of greater concern to a convicted alien than "any potential jail sentence." Jae Lee v. United States, 582 U.S. __, __, 137 S.Ct. 1958, 1968, 198 L.Ed.2d 476. Pp. 1212 - 1213.

(b) Section 16(b) demands a categorical, ordinary-case approach. For reasons expressed in Johnson, that approach cannot be abandoned in favor of a conduct-based approach, which asks about the specific way in which a defendant committed a crime. To begin, the Government once again "has not asked [the Court] to abandon the categorical approach in residual-clause cases," suggesting the fact-based approach is an untenable interpretation of § 16(b). 576 U.S., at __, 135 S.Ct., at 2561. Moreover, a fact-based approach would generate constitutional questions. In any event, § 16(b)’s text demands a categorical approach. This Court’s decisions have consistently understood language in the residual clauses of both ACCA and § 16 to refer to "the statute of conviction, not to the facts of each defendant’s conduct." Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575, 601, 110 S.Ct. 2143, 109 L.Ed.2d 607. And the words "by its nature" in § 16(b) even more clearly compel an inquiry into an offense’s normal and characteristic quality— that is, what the offense ordinarily entails....

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