Leocal v. Ashcroft, No. 03-583.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtRehnquist
Citation543 U.S. 1
Docket NumberNo. 03-583.
Decision Date09 November 2004
PartiesLEOCAL v. ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL, ET AL.
543 U.S. 1
LEOCAL
v.
ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL, ET AL.
No. 03-583.
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued October 12, 2004.
Decided November 9, 2004.

Petitioner, a lawful permanent resident of the United States, pleaded guilty to two counts of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) and causing serious bodily injury in an accident, in violation of Florida law. While he was serving his prison sentence, the Immigration and Naturalization Service initiated removal proceedings pursuant to § 237(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which permits deportation of an alien convicted of "an aggravated felony." INA § 101(a)(43)(F) defines "aggravated felony" to include, inter alia, "a crime of violence [as defined in 18 U. S. C. § 16] for which the term of imprisonment [is] at least one year." Title 18 U. S. C. § 16(a), in turn, defines "crime of violence" as "an offense that has as an element the use . . . of physical force against the person or property of another," and § 16(b) defines it 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." An Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered petitioner's deportation, and the Eleventh Circuit dismissed his petition for review, relying on its precedent that a conviction under Florida's DUI statute is a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 16.

Held: State DUI offenses such as Florida's, which either do not have a mens rea component or require only a showing of negligence in the

[543 U.S. 2]

operation of a vehicle, are not crimes of violence under 18 U. S. C. § 16. Pp. 6-13.

(a) Section 16 requires this Court to look to the elements and nature of the offense of conviction in determining whether petitioner's conviction falls within its ambit. Florida's DUI statute, like similar statutes in many States, requires proof of causation but not of any mental state; and some other States appear to require only proof that a person acted negligently in operating the vehicle. This Court's analysis begins with § 16's language. See Bailey v. United States, 516 U. S. 137, 144. Particularly when interpreting a statute featuring as elastic a word as "use," the Court construes language in its context and in light of the terms surrounding it. See Smith v. United States, 508 U. S. 223, 229. Section 16(a)'s critical aspect is that a crime of violence involves the "use . . . of physical force against" another's person or property. That requires active employment. See Bailey, supra, at 145. While one may, in theory, actively employ something in an accidental manner, it is much less natural to say that a person actively employs physical force against another by accident. When interpreting a statute, words must be given their "ordinary or natural" meaning, Smith, supra, at 228, and § 16(a)'s key phrase most naturally suggests a higher degree of intent than negligent or merely accidental conduct. Petitioner's DUI offense therefore is not a crime of violence under § 16(a). Pp. 6-10.

(b) Nor is it a crime of violence under § 16(b), which sweeps more broadly than § 16(a), but does not thereby encompass all negligent conduct, such as negligent operation of a vehicle. It simply covers offenses that naturally involve a person acting in disregard of the risk that physical force might be used against another in committing an offense. The classic example is burglary, which, by nature, involves a substantial risk that the burglar will use force against a victim in completing the crime. Thus, § 16(b) contains the same formulation found to be determinative in § 16(a): the use of physical force against another's person or property. Accordingly, § 16(b)'s language must be given an identical construction, requiring a higher mens rea than the merely accidental or negligent conduct involved in a DUI offense. Pp. 10-11.

(c) The ordinary meaning of the term "crime of violence," which is what this Court is ultimately determining, combined with § 16's emphasis on the use of physical force against another (or the risk of having to use such force in committing a crime), suggests a category of violent, active crimes that cannot be said naturally to include DUI offenses. This construction is reinforced by INA § 101(h), which includes as alternative definitions of "serious criminal offense" a "crime of violence, as defined in [§ 16]," § 101(h)(2), and a DUI-causing-injury offense, § 101(h)(3). Interpreting § 16 to include DUI offenses would leave

[543 U.S. 3]

§ 101(h)(3) practically void of significance, in contravention of the rule that effect should be given to every word of a statute whenever possible, see Duncan v. Walker, 533 U. S. 167, 174. Pp. 11-12.

(d) This case does not present the question whether an offense requiring proof of the reckless use of force against another's person or property qualifies as a crime of violence under § 16. P. 13.

Reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT.

J. Sedwick Sollers III argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Patricia L. Maher and Michael J. Ciatti.

Dan Himmelfarb argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Acting Solicitor General Clement, Assistant Attorney General Keisler, Deputy Solicitors General Dreeben and Kneedler, Donald E. Keener, and Greg D. Mack.*

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.


Petitioner Josue Leocal, a Haitian citizen who is a lawful permanent resident of the United States, was convicted in 2000 of driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) and causing serious bodily injury, in violation of Florida law. See Fla. Stat. § 316.193(3)(c)(2) (2003). Classifying this conviction as a "crime of violence" under 18 U. S. C. § 16, and therefore an "aggravated felony" under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), an Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ordered that petitioner be deported pursuant to § 237(a) of the INA. The Court of Appeals

543 U.S. 4

for the Eleventh Circuit agreed, dismissing petitioner's petition for review. We disagree and hold that petitioner's DUI conviction is not a crime of violence under 18 U. S. C. § 16.

Petitioner immigrated to the United States in 1980 and became a lawful permanent resident in 1987. In January 2000, he was charged with two counts of DUI causing serious bodily injury under Fla. Stat. § 316.193(3)(c)(2), after he caused an accident resulting in injury to two people. He pleaded guilty to both counts and was sentenced to 2½ years in prison.

In November 2000, while he was serving his sentence, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) initiated removal proceedings against him pursuant to § 237(a) of the INA. Under that provision, "[a]ny alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony . . . is deportable" and may be removed upon an order of the Attorney General. 66 Stat. 201, 8 U. S. C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Section 101(a)(43) of the INA defines "aggravated felony" to include, inter alia, "a crime of violence (as defined in section 16 of title 18, but not including a purely political offense) for which the term of imprisonment [is] at least one year."1 8 U. S. C. § 1101(a)(43)(F) (footnote omitted). Title 18 U. S. C. § 16, in turn, defines the term "crime of violence" to mean:

543 U.S. 5

"(a) an offense that has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or

"(b) 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."

Here, the INS claimed that petitioner's DUI conviction was a "crime of violence" under § 16, and therefore an "aggravated felony" under the INA.

In October 2001, an Immigration Judge found petitioner removable, relying upon the Eleventh Circuit's decision in Le v. United States Attorney General, 196 F. 3d 1352 (1999) (per curiam), which held that a conviction under the Florida DUI statute qualified as a crime of violence. The BIA affirmed.2 Petitioner completed his sentence and was removed to Haiti in November 2002. In June 2003, the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dismissed petitioner's petition for review, relying on its previous ruling in Le, supra.3 App. to

543 U.S. 6

Pet. for Cert. 5a-7a. We granted certiorari, 540 U. S. 1176 (2004), to resolve a conflict among the Courts of Appeals on the question whether state DUI offenses similar to the one in Florida, which either do not have a mens rea component or require only a showing of negligence in the operation of a vehicle, qualify as a crime of violence. Compare Le, supra, at 1354; and Omar v. INS, 298 F. 3d 710, 715-718 (CA8 2002), with United States v. Trinidad-Aquino, 259 F. 3d 1140, 1145-1146 (CA9 2001); Dalton v. Ashcroft, 257 F. 3d 200, 205-206 (CA2 2001); Bazan-Reyes v. INS, 256 F. 3d 600, 609-611 (CA7 2001); and United States v. Chapa-Garza, 243 F. 3d 921, 926-927 (CA5), amended, 262 F. 3d 479 (CA5 2001) (per curiam); see also Ursu v. INS, 20 Fed. Appx. 702 (CA9 2001) (following Trinidad-Aquino, supra, and ruling that a violation of the Florida DUI statute at issue here and in Le does not count as a "crime of violence"). We now reverse the Eleventh Circuit.

* * *

Title 18 U. S. C. § 16 was enacted as part of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984, which broadly reformed the federal criminal code in such areas as sentencing, bail, and drug enforcement, and which added a variety of new violent and nonviolent offenses. § 1001(a), 98 Stat. 2136. Congress employed the term "crime of violence" in numerous places in the Act, such as for defining the elements of particular offenses, see, e. g., 18 U. S....

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    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • April 7, 2015
    ...Moreover, a court should interpret a statute so as to “give effect to every word of a statute wherever possible.” Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 12, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004). The Regulation's requirement that qualifying work under § 1101(a)(27)(C)(iii) be “in lawful immigratio......
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    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • July 3, 2017
    ...arguing that intervening legal developments clarified that his conviction was not for an aggravated felony. Id. Citing Leocal v. Ashcroft , 543 U.S. 1, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004), and Lara-Cazares v. Gonzales , 408 F.3d 1217 (9th Cir. 2005) —decisions rendered six and seven years......
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    • United States
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    ...under 18 U.S.C. § 16(a), which defines a crime of violence in a similar manner as the elements clause of the ACCA. Leocal v. Ashcroft , 543 U.S. 1, 4–5, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004).9 As the Supreme Court explained, it granted certiorari in that case "to resolve a conflict among th......
  • Moncrieffe v. Holder, No. 11–702.
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • April 23, 2013
    ...by the INA must be construed in the noncitizen's favor. See Carachuri–Rosendo, 560 U.S., at ––––, 130 S.Ct., at 2589; Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 11, n. 8, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004). Finally, the Government suggests that our holding will frustrate the enforcement of other ag......
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1092 cases
  • Shalom Pentecostal Church v. Acting Sec'y U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., No. 13–4434.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • April 7, 2015
    ...Moreover, a court should interpret a statute so as to “give effect to every word of a statute wherever possible.” Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 12, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004). The Regulation's requirement that qualifying work under § 1101(a)(27)(C)(iii) be “in lawful immigratio......
  • United States v. Ochoa, No. 15-10354
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • July 3, 2017
    ...arguing that intervening legal developments clarified that his conviction was not for an aggravated felony. Id. Citing Leocal v. Ashcroft , 543 U.S. 1, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004), and Lara-Cazares v. Gonzales , 408 F.3d 1217 (9th Cir. 2005) —decisions rendered six and seven years......
  • United States v. Taylor, Criminal No. 03–10 (CKK)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • August 9, 2017
    ...under 18 U.S.C. § 16(a), which defines a crime of violence in a similar manner as the elements clause of the ACCA. Leocal v. Ashcroft , 543 U.S. 1, 4–5, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004).9 As the Supreme Court explained, it granted certiorari in that case "to resolve a conflict among th......
  • Moncrieffe v. Holder, No. 11–702.
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • April 23, 2013
    ...by the INA must be construed in the noncitizen's favor. See Carachuri–Rosendo, 560 U.S., at ––––, 130 S.Ct., at 2589; Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 11, n. 8, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004). Finally, the Government suggests that our holding will frustrate the enforcement of other ag......
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    ...federal authority over drug production internal to a state but arguably affecting the flow of drugs "among the states." Gonzalez v. Raich, 543 U.S. 1 (168.) Consider, for example, the prosecution of Johvannny Aybar-Ulloa, a citizen of the Dominican Republic, who was interdicted in internati......
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    ...938 F.3d at 989-90, 992. (74) Id. at 999. (75) Id. at 1000. (76) Id. at 1001-02. (77) Id. at 1002. (78) Id. (citing Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 11 n.8 (2004) ("Because we must interpret the statute consistently, whether we encounter its application in a criminal or noncriminal context, ......

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