SCOTUS Grants Cert in Case Re: Immigration, Drug Offenses and Deportability

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD on June 30, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eighth Circuit recently denied review of a Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") decision which decided that a lawful permanent resident may be deported on the basis of a drug paraphernalia statute that was related to a controlled substance.

Though the Eighth Circuit aligned itself with many other circuits, the Supreme Court today granted cert to determine whether the government must prove the connection between a state drug paraphernalia conviction and a federally controlled substance.

Mellouli v. Holder -- Underlying Facts

Moones Mellouli is a Tunisian citizen, and lawful permanent resident of the United States. In April 2010 he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, and while in detention, four Adderall pills were found in his sock, and he was charged with "trafficking in contraband in jail." He pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, on July 13, 2010, and the amended complaint made no mention that the controlled substance he was storing in his paraphernalia (sock) was Adderall.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 sets forth a schedule of controlled substances, which nearly all states have adopted, including Kansas. Section 237(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act provides that a lawful resident alien is deportable if he "has been convicted of a violation of ... any law ... relating to a controlled substance .. other than ... possession for one's own use of 30 grams or less of marijuana, is deportable."

Mellouli v. Holder -- BIA

Before the BIA, Mellouli argued that because Kansas included a few substances in addition to the ones listed in the federal schedule of controlled substances, there was a remote possibility that a Kansas paraphernalia conviction did not involve a federally controlled substance. Furthermore, he argued that only documents reflecting his conviction could be used, those conveniently silent to the substance, in this case Adderall, to prove that the conviction fell under Section 237. The BIA was not convinced, and held that his conviction for drug paraphernalia "involves drug trade in general and, thus, is covered by" Section 237.

Mellouli v. Holder -- Supreme Court Grants Cert

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit had to address several of Mellouli's arguments -- none of which they found convincing -- and denied Mellouli's petition for review. Today, the Supreme Court granted cert to determine "whether, to trigger deportability under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(B)(i), the government must prove the connection between a drug paraphernalia conviction and a substance listed in section 802 of the Controlled Substances Act," reports SCOTUSblog.

The Court will hear arguments during the 2014 Term, and we will have a decision by June 2015.

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