Lunn v. Commonwealth

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation477 Mass. 517,78 N.E.3d 1143
Docket NumberSJC-12276
Parties Sreynuon LUNN v. COMMONWEALTH& another.
Decision Date24 July 2017

477 Mass. 517
78 N.E.3d 1143

Sreynuon LUNN


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk..

Argued April 4, 2017.
Decided July 24, 2017.

Emma C. Winger (Mark Fleming, of New York, & Alyssa Hackett, Committee for Public Counsel Services, also present) for the petitioner.

Joshua S. Press, of the District of Columbia, for the United States.

Jessica V. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General (Allen H. Forbes, Special Assistant Attorney General, & Sara A. Colb, Assistant Attorney General, also present) for the Commonwealth & another.

The following submitted briefs for amici curiae:

78 N.E.3d 1146

Sabrineh Ardalan, of New York,Philip L. Torrey, Mark C. Fleming, & Laila Ameri, Boston, for Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program at Harvard Law School.

Christopher N. Lasch, of Colorado, for David C. Baluarte & others.

Karen Pita Loor for Criminal Defense Clinic at Boston University School of Law.

Omar C. Jadwat, of New York, Spencer E. Amdur, of Pennsylvania, Cody H. Wofsy, of California, Matthew R. Segal, Jessie J. Rossman, Laura Rótolo, Carlton E. Williams, Kirsten V. Mayer, Boston, Kim B. Nemirow, & Laura Murray-Tjan for Bristol County Bar Advocates, Inc., & others.

Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, & Cypher, JJ.

477 Mass. 518

BY THE COURT. After the sole pending criminal charge against him was dismissed, the petitioner, Sreynuon Lunn, was held by Massachusetts court officers in a holding cell at the Boston Municipal Court at the request of a Federal immigration officer, pursuant to a Federal civil immigration detainer. Civil immigration detainers are documents issued by Federal immigration officers when they wish to arrest a person who is in State custody for the purpose of removing the person from the country. By issuing a civil detainer, the Federal officer asks the State custodian voluntarily to hold the person for up to two days after he or she would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody, in order to allow Federal authorities time to arrive and take the person into Federal custody for removal purposes.

The United States Supreme Court has explained that, "[a]s a general rule, it is not a crime for a removable alien to remain present in the United States," Arizona v. United States , 567 U.S. 387, 407, 132 S.Ct. 2492, 183 L.Ed.2d 351 (2012), and that the Federal administrative process for removing someone from the country "is a civil, not criminal, matter." Id . at 396, 132 S.Ct. 2492. Immigration detainers like the one used in this case, for the purpose of that process, are therefore strictly civil in nature. The removal process is not a criminal prosecution. The detainers are not criminal detainers or criminal arrest warrants. They do not charge anyone with a crime, indicate that anyone has been charged with a crime, or ask that anyone be detained in order that he or she can be prosecuted for a crime. Detainers like this are used to detain individuals because the Federal authorities believe that they are civilly removable from the country.

It is undisputed in this case that holding someone in circumstances like this, against his or her will, constitutes an arrest under Massachusetts law. The question before us, therefore, is whether Massachusetts court officers have the authority to arrest someone

477 Mass. 519

at the request of Federal immigration authorities, pursuant to a civil immigration detainer, solely because the Federal authorities believe the person is subject to civil removal. There is no Federal statute that confers on State officers the power to make this kind of an arrest. The question we must answer is whether the State law of Massachusetts authorizes such an arrest. To answer the question, we must look to the long-standing common law of the Commonwealth and to the statutes enacted by our Legislature. Having done so, we conclude that nothing in the statutes or common law of Massachusetts authorizes court officers to make a civil arrest in these circumstances.2 ,3

78 N.E.3d 1147

Background . Lunn was arraigned in the Boston Municipal Court on October 24, 2016, on a single count of unarmed robbery. The day before the arraignment, the United States Department of Homeland Security (department) issued a civil immigration detainer against him. The detainer document was a standard form document then in use by the department. It requested, among other things, that the Massachusetts authorities continue to hold Lunn in State custody for up to two days after he would otherwise be released, in order to give officers of the department time to arrive and take him into Federal custody.4

Bail was set at the arraignment in the amount of $1,500. Lunn did not post bail and, according to the trial court docket, was committed to the custody of the sheriff of Suffolk County (sheriff)

477 Mass. 520

at the Suffolk County jail in lieu of bail.5

Lunn was brought back to court for trial on February 6, 2017.6 He was transported from the jail to the court house by personnel from the office of the sheriff, and was delivered into the custody of the trial court's court officers. Because the Commonwealth was not ready for trial at that time, the judge dismissed the case for lack

78 N.E.3d 1148

of prosecution.7 At that point there were no longer any criminal charges pending against Lunn in Massachusetts. Lunn's counsel informed the judge of the outstanding detainer and asked that Lunn be released from custody notwithstanding the detainer, the criminal case having been dismissed. The judge declined to act on that request.8 Lunn remained in the custody of the court officers; it appears that he was kept in a holding cell in the court house. Several hours later—the record before us does not specify exactly how long—department officials arrived at the

477 Mass. 521

court house and took Lunn into Federal custody.

The following morning, February 7, 2017, Lunn's counsel filed a petition in the county court on his behalf, pursuant to G.L.c. 211, § 3, asking a single justice of this court to order the Boston Municipal Court to release him.9 The petition alleged, among other things, that the trial court and its court officers had no authority to hold Lunn on the Federal civil detainer after the criminal case against him had been dismissed, and that his continued detention based solely on the detainer violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and arts. 12 and 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. By that time, however, Lunn had already been taken into Federal custody. The single justice therefore considered the matter moot but, recognizing that the petition raised important, recurring, and time-sensitive legal issues that would likely evade review in future cases, reserved and reported the case to the full court.

Discussion . 1. Civil versus criminal immigration enforcement . The principal statute governing immigration in the United States is the Immigration and Nationality Act (act), 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101 et seq. It sets forth in elaborate detail the terms, conditions, and procedures for admitting individuals into the United States who are not citizens or nationals of this country (referred to in the act as "aliens," 8 U.S.C. § 1101 [a][3] ), as well as the terms, conditions, and procedures for removing those individuals from the country. Some violations of the act are criminal offenses. It is a crime, for example—punishable as a misdemeanor for the first offense—for an alien to enter the country illegally. 8 U.S.C. § 1325(a).10 Immigration crimes are

78 N.E.3d 1149

prosecuted in the Federal District Courts, like any other Federal crimes.

Many violations of the act are not criminal offenses. Being

477 Mass. 522

present in the country illegally, for example, is not by itself a crime. Illegal presence without more is only a civil violation of the act that subjects the individual to possible removal. 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(1)(B). See Arizona , 567 U.S. at 407, 132 S.Ct. 2492 ; Melendres v. Arpaio , 695 F.3d 990, 1000-1001 (9th Cir. 2012) ("[U]nlike illegal entry, mere unauthorized presence in the United States is not a crime").11

Significantly, the administrative proceedings brought by Federal immigration authorities to remove individuals from the country are civil proceedings, not criminal prosecutions. See Arizona , 567 U.S. at 396, 132 S.Ct. 2492. See also 6 C. Gordon, S. Mailman, S. Yale-Loehr, & R.Y. Wada, Immigration Law and Procedure § 71.01[4][a] (Matthew Bender, rev. ed. 2016) (acknowledging "the uniform judicial view, reiterated in numerous Supreme Court and lower court holdings, ... that [removal] is a civil consequence and is not regarded as criminal punishment"). This is true even where the alleged basis for removal is the commission of a criminal offense....

To continue reading

Request your trial
25 cases
  • Cnty. of Ocean v. Grewal, Civil Action No. 19-18083 (FLW)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
    • July 29, 2020
    ...INA that authorized these agreements. City of El Cenizo v. Texas , 890 F.3d 164, 178 n.5 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing Lunn v. Commonwealth , 477 Mass. 517, 78 N.E.3d 1143, 1158 (2017) ).4 In 2007, then-Attorney General Anne Milgram issued Directive 2007-3 to "establish the manner in which local,......
  • City of Gary v. Nicholson
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • December 10, 2021
    ...immigration officers in immigration enforcement to the extent they are authorized to do so by their State law and choose to do so. 477 Mass. 517, 78 N.E.3d 1143, 1159 (2017) (emphases added). The Lunn court held [181 N.E.3d 408 that state law enforcement officers did not "have an inherent a......
  • Ryan v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • September 1, 2020
    ...held that state-court functionaries could not detain noncitizens based solely on civil immigration detainers. See Lunn v. Commonwealth, 477 Mass. 517, 78 N.E.3d 1143, 1146 (2017) (per curiam).The Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court, in response to Lunn and ICE's more pervasive pr......
  • Davila v. N. Reg'l Joint Police Bd.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. Western District of Pennsylvania
    • February 27, 2019
    ...still do so constitutionally and in a manner consistent with state and local law. 8 U.S.C. § 1357(g)(1) ; see also Lunn v. Commonwealth , 477 Mass. 517, 78 N.E.3d 1143, 1157–59 (2017). In the context relevant to Ms. Davila's claims, any seizure premised on an immigration detainer must be ju......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • Loyola Journal of Public Interest Law Vol. 20 No. 1, September 2018
    • September 22, 2018 - page 721 (49) Lunn v. Commonwealth, 477 Mass. 517, 518 (2017); see also Galarza v. 745 F.3d 634 (3d Cir. 2014) (50) Id. (51) U.S. Const, amend. X "prohibits the Federal government from compelling S......
  • The Limits of Local Sanctuary Initiatives for Immigrants
    • United States
    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The No. 690-1, July 2020
    • July 1, 2020
    ...well as under a ruling from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court finding that such detainers violate state law (Lunn v. Commonwealth, 78 N.E.3d 1143 [Mass. 2017]). However, Boston has not adopted other possible sanctuary-type policies, such as limiting inquiries into immigration status ......

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT