Sessions v. Dimaya, No. 15–1498.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation138 S.Ct. 1204,200 L.Ed.2d 549
Decision Date17 April 2018
Parties Jefferson B. SESSIONS, III, Attorney General, Petitioner v. James Garcia DIMAYA.
Docket NumberNo. 15–1498.

138 S.Ct. 1204
200 L.Ed.2d 549

Jefferson B. SESSIONS, III, Attorney General, Petitioner
v.
James Garcia DIMAYA.

No. 15–1498.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued Jan. 17, 2017.
Reargued Oct. 2, 2017.

Decided April 17, 2018.


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 Solicitor General, Donald E. Keener, Bryan S. Beier, Attorneys, Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner.

Andrew Knapp, Southwestern Law School, Los Angeles, CA, E. Joshua Rosenkranz, Thomas M. Bondy, Brian P. Goldman, Naomi J. Mower, Randall C. Smith, Ned Hirschfeld, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, New York, NY, for Respondent.

Justice KAGAN announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, III, IV–B, and V, and an opinion with respect to Parts II and IV–A, in which Justice GINSBURG, Justice BREYER, and Justice SOTOMAYOR join.

Three Terms ago, in Johnson v. United States, this Court held that part of a federal law's definition of "violent felony" was impermissibly vague. See 576 U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015). The question in this case is whether a similarly worded clause in a statute's definition of "crime of violence" suffers from the same constitutional defect. Adhering to our analysis in Johnson, we hold that it does.

I

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) renders deportable any alien convicted of an "aggravated felony" after entering the United States. 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Such an alien is also ineligible for cancellation of removal, a form of discretionary relief allowing some deportable aliens to remain in the country. See §§ 1229b(a)(3), (b)(1)(C). Accordingly,

138 S.Ct. 1211

removal is a virtual certainty for an alien found to have an aggravated felony conviction, no matter how long he has previously resided here.

The INA defines "aggravated felony" by listing numerous offenses and types of offenses, often with cross-references to federal criminal statutes. § 1101(a)(43) ; see Luna Torres v. Lynch, 578 U.S. ––––, ––––, 136 S.Ct. 1619, 1623, 194 L.Ed.2d 737 (2016). According to one item on that long list, an aggravated felony includes "a crime of violence (as defined in section 16 of title 18...) for which the term of imprisonment [is] at least one year." § 1101(a)(43)(F). The specified statute, 18 U.S.C. § 16, provides the federal criminal code's definition of "crime of violence." Its two parts, often known as the elements clause and the residual clause, cover:

"(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."

Section 16(b), the residual clause, is the part of the statute at issue in this case.

To decide whether a person's conviction "falls within the ambit" of that clause, courts use a distinctive form of what we have called the categorical approach. Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, 7, 125 S.Ct. 377, 160 L.Ed.2d 271 (2004). The question, we have explained, is not whether "the particular facts" underlying a conviction posed the substantial risk that § 16(b) demands. Ibid. Neither is the question whether the statutory elements of a crime require (or entail) the creation of such a risk in each case that the crime covers.1 The § 16(b) inquiry instead turns on the "nature of the offense" generally speaking. Ibid. (referring to § 16(b)'s "by its nature" language). More precisely, § 16(b) requires a court to ask 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 (2007) ; see infra, at 1213 - 1214.

In the case before us, Immigration Judges employed that analysis to conclude that respondent James Dimaya is deportable as an aggravated felon. A native of the Philippines, Dimaya has resided lawfully in the United States since 1992. But he has not always acted lawfully during that time. Twice, Dimaya was convicted of first-degree burglary under California law. See Cal. Penal Code Ann. §§ 459, 460(a). Following his second offense, the Government initiated a removal proceeding against him. Both an Immigration Judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals held that California first-degree burglary is a "crime of violence" under § 16(b). "[B]y its nature," the Board reasoned, the offense "carries a substantial risk of the use of force." App. to Pet. for Cert. 46a. Dimaya sought review in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

While his appeal was pending, this Court held unconstitutional part of the definition of "violent felony" in the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e). ACCA prescribes a 15–year

138 S.Ct. 1212

mandatory minimum sentence if a person convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm has three prior convictions for a "violent felony." § 924(e)(1). The definition of that statutory term goes as follows:

"any crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year ... that—

"(i) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person of another; or

"(ii) is burglary, arson, or extortion, involves use of explosives, or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another. " § 924(e)(2)(B) (emphasis added).

The italicized portion of that definition (like the similar language of § 16(b) ) came to be known as the statute's residual clause. In Johnson v. United States, the Court declared that clause "void for vagueness" under the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. 576 U.S., at ––– –-––––, 135 S.Ct., at 2561–2563.

Relying on Johnson , the Ninth Circuit held that § 16(b), as incorporated into the INA, was also unconstitutionally vague, and accordingly ruled in Dimaya's favor. See Dimaya v. Lynch, 803 F.3d 1110, 1120 (2015). Two other Circuits reached the same conclusion, but a third distinguished ACCA's residual clause from § 16's.2 We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict. Lynch v. Dimaya, 579 U.S. ––––, 137 S.Ct. 31, 195 L.Ed.2d 902 (2016).

II

"The prohibition of vagueness in criminal statutes," our decision in Johnson explained, is an "essential" of due process, required by both "ordinary notions of fair play and the settled rules of law." 576 U.S., at ––––, 135 S.Ct., at 2557 (quoting Connally v. General Constr. Co., 269 U.S. 385, 391, 46 S.Ct. 126, 70 L.Ed. 322 (1926) ). The void-for-vagueness doctrine, as we have called it, guarantees that ordinary people have "fair notice" of the conduct a statute proscribes. Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U.S. 156, 162, 92 S.Ct. 839, 31 L.Ed.2d 110 (1972). And the doctrine guards against arbitrary or discriminatory law enforcement by insisting that a statute provide standards to govern the actions of police officers, prosecutors, juries, and judges. See Kolender v. Lawson, 461 U.S. 352, 357–358, 103 S.Ct. 1855, 75 L.Ed.2d 903 (1983). In that sense, the doctrine is a corollary of the separation of powers—requiring that Congress, rather than the executive or judicial branch, define what conduct is sanctionable and what is not. Cf. id., at 358, n. 7, 103 S.Ct. 1855 ("[I]f the legislature could set a net large enough to catch all possible offenders, and leave it to the courts to step inside and say who could be rightfully detained, [it would] substitute the judicial for the legislative department" (internal quotation marks omitted)).

The Government argues that a less searching form of the void-for-vagueness doctrine applies here than in Johnson because this is not a criminal case. See Brief for Petitioner 13–15. As the Government notes, this Court has stated that "[t]he degree of vagueness that the Constitution [allows] depends in part on the nature of the enactment": In particular, the Court has "expressed greater tolerance of enactments with civil rather than criminal penalties because the consequences of imprecision are qualitatively less severe." Hoffman Estates v. Flipside, Hoffman Estates,

138 S.Ct. 1213

Inc., 455 U.S. 489, 498–499, 102 S.Ct. 1186, 71 L.Ed.2d 362 (1982). The removal of an alien is a civil matter. See Arizona v. United States, 567 U.S. 387, 396, 132 S.Ct. 2492, 183 L.Ed.2d 351 (2012). Hence, the Government claims, the need for clarity is not so strong; even a law too vague to support a conviction or sentence may be good enough to sustain a deportation order. See Brief for Petitioner 25–26.

But this Court's precedent forecloses that argument, because we long ago held that the most exacting vagueness standard should apply in removal cases. In Jordan v. De George, we considered whether a provision of immigration law making an alien deportable if convicted of a "crime involving moral turpitude" was "sufficiently definite." 341 U.S. 223, 229, 71 S.Ct. 703, 95 L.Ed. 886 (1951). That provision, we noted,...

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1841 practice notes
  • United States v. Stupka, No. 19-CR-3024-LTS-KEM
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • November 13, 2019
    ...Fifth Amendment's due process guarantee is "[t]he prohibition of vagueness in criminal statutes." Sessions v. Dimaya , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1212, 200 L.Ed.2d 549 (2018). A law is unconstitutionally vague if it (1) "fails to provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of......
  • United States v. Williams, Criminal No. 09-0026 (PLF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 8, 2019
    ...177 L.Ed.2d 108 (2010) ; United States v. Monzel, 746 F.Supp.2d 76, 82 (D.D.C. 2010).4 In light of Sessions v. Dimaya, ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. 1204, 200 L.Ed.2d 549 (2018), the United States has withdrawn its argument that involuntary manslaughter is a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 1......
  • Edge v. City of Everett, Mun. Corp., No. 17-36038
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • July 3, 2019
    ...to satisfy this due process concern is " ‘fair notice’ of the conduct a statute proscribes." Sessions v. Dimaya , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1212, 200 L.Ed.2d 549 (2018). But "where [F]irst [A]mendment freedoms are at stake, an even greater degree of specificity and clarity of laws is ......
  • Jones v. Governor of Fla., No. 20-12003
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 11, 2020
    ...people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up." Sessions v. Dimaya , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1223–24, 200 L.Ed.2d 549 (2018) (Gorsuch, J., concurring). The lack of 975 F.3d 1098 standards regarding how to implement the LFO requiremen......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1832 cases
  • United States v. Stupka, No. 19-CR-3024-LTS-KEM
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa
    • November 13, 2019
    ...Fifth Amendment's due process guarantee is "[t]he prohibition of vagueness in criminal statutes." Sessions v. Dimaya , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1212, 200 L.Ed.2d 549 (2018). A law is unconstitutionally vague if it (1) "fails to provide a person of ordinary intelligence fair notice of......
  • United States v. Williams, Criminal No. 09-0026 (PLF)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • January 8, 2019
    ...177 L.Ed.2d 108 (2010) ; United States v. Monzel, 746 F.Supp.2d 76, 82 (D.D.C. 2010).4 In light of Sessions v. Dimaya, ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. 1204, 200 L.Ed.2d 549 (2018), the United States has withdrawn its argument that involuntary manslaughter is a crime of violence under 18 U.S.C. § 1......
  • Edge v. City of Everett, Mun. Corp., No. 17-36038
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • July 3, 2019
    ...to satisfy this due process concern is " ‘fair notice’ of the conduct a statute proscribes." Sessions v. Dimaya , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1212, 200 L.Ed.2d 549 (2018). But "where [F]irst [A]mendment freedoms are at stake, an even greater degree of specificity and clarity of laws is ......
  • Jones v. Governor of Fla., No. 20-12003
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 11, 2020
    ...people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up." Sessions v. Dimaya , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1223–24, 200 L.Ed.2d 549 (2018) (Gorsuch, J., concurring). The lack of 975 F.3d 1098 standards regarding how to implement the LFO requiremen......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 firm's commentaries
  • Is Another "Patchwork" Definition Of Waters Of The United States Coming?
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • September 10, 2021
    ...(memorandum filed Aug. 23, 2018). 20 Sackett v. EPA, 566 U.S. 120, 133 (2012) (Alito, J., concurring). 21 Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1212 The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specifi......
  • Is Another "Patchwork" Definition Of Waters Of The United States Coming?
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • September 10, 2021
    ...(memorandum filed Aug. 23, 2018). 20 Sackett v. EPA, 566 U.S. 120, 133 (2012) (Alito, J., concurring). 21 Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1212 The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specifi......
  • Will "Significant Nexus" Again Define Waters Of The United States?
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • August 12, 2021
    ...Inc. v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). 14 F.C.C. v. Fox, 556 U.S. 502, 515 (2009). 15 Id. 16 Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1212 17 Id. 18 Sackett v. EPA, 566 U.S. 120, 133 (2012) (Alito, J., concurring). 19 U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs v. Hawkes Co., 136 S. Ct. 1807,......
  • Will "Significant Nexus" Again Define Waters Of The United States?
    • United States
    • Mondaq United States
    • August 12, 2021
    ...Inc. v. Nat. Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984). 14 F.C.C. v. Fox, 556 U.S. 502, 515 (2009). 15 Id. 16 Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1212 17 Id. 18 Sackett v. EPA, 566 U.S. 120, 133 (2012) (Alito, J., concurring). 19 U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs v. Hawkes Co., 136 S. Ct. 1807,......
4 books & journal articles
  • THE IMAGINARY IMMIGRATION CLAUSE.
    • United States
    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 120 Nbr. 7, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...8, cl. 4, and its inherent power as sovereign to control and conduct relations with foreign nations."); see also Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1248-49 (2018)(Thomas, J., dissenting)("[T]here is some founding era evidence that 'the executive Power,' Art. II, [section] 1, includes the ......
  • JUDICIAL DEFERENCE TO MUNICIPAL INTERPRETATION.
    • United States
    • Fordham Urban Law Journal Vol. 49 Nbr. 4, May 2022
    • May 1, 2022
    ...judges are elected for six-year terms. Id. [section] 5(2). (100.) See Buchmeyer, supra note 98, at 1616; see also Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1249 (2018) (Thomas, J., dissenting) (arguing that at least as an original matter, "the interpretation of legal texts, even vague ones, rema......
  • The Meat of the Matter: Shoring Up Animal Agriculture at the Expense of Consumers, Animals, and the Environment
    • United States
    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 50-3, March 2020
    • March 1, 2020
    ...apply the “stricter” test if discrimination is evidenced: (1) when the state or local law discriminates 79. See Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1232 (2018) (Gorsuch, J., concurring). 80. Note that this actually should be an acceptable vegan term, since “mete” originally meant “food, no......
  • Getting Public Rights Wrong: The Lost History of the Private Land Claims.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 74 Nbr. 2, February 2022
    • February 1, 2022
    ...(2019) (Thomas, J., concurring in the denial of certiorari); Ortiz v. United States, 138 S. Ct. 2165, 2175 (2018); Sessions v. Dimaya, 138 S. Ct. 1204, 1246 (2018) (Thomas, J., dissenting); Wellness Int'l, 575 U.S. at 712-13 (Thomas, J., dissenting); B&B Hardware, Inc. v. Hargis Indus.,......

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