The United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a Jamaican national who was deported from the United States over possession of a small amount of marijuana.
The court, by a seven-two decision, ruled that Adrian Moncrieffe – a long-time U.S. resident should have had the opportunity to contest his deportation.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her opinion that marijuana offences must involve either the sale of the drug or possession of more than a small amount to count as serious enough to warrant automatic deportation. Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.
Moncrieffe had lived legally in the United States since he was three years old and in 2008, police pulled him over and found 1.3 grammes of marijuana in his car.
He faced the charge of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, which under Georgia law encompasses a range of conduct from social sharing to distribution of larger amounts.
Moncrieffe accepted a plea with no jail time in which the charge would be expunged if he complied with his probation. However, two years later, immigration agents jailed him and began deportation proceedings, citing the marijuana arrest.
According to government officials, Moncrieffe's crime was serious enough to count as an "aggravated felony" and that it fell into a category that made his deportation automatic and deprived even the attorney general of the ability to step in and cancel it.
But Justice Sotomayor said that under immigration law, a conviction that "fails to establish that the offence involved either remuneration or more than a small amount of marijuana" is not an aggravated felony.
She also dismissed the concern raised by Justice Alito in his dissent that, because about half the states have statutes similar to the one in Georgia, many people convicted of marijuana crimes will avoid deportation because the state laws are not specific enough.
"Escaping aggravated felony treatment does not mean escaping deportation ...It just means that the deportation is not automatic," Sotomayor said.
Justice Thomas wrote that the Georgia law defines the crime as a drug-trafficking offence, which should have resolved the case in the government's favor.
Meanwhile, Angel Arias, one of the lawyers who represented Moncrieffe, said efforts will be made to have the Jamaican returned to the United States to reverse the deportation order.
"Well the next move that's going to happen is that we have to speak to the U.S. Government to get Mr Moncrieffe back into the U.S, so we can finish deportation proceedings."
He described the Supreme Court's ruling as a major decision for immigrants, who face deportation for petty crimes.
"It is a major ruling, I would consider one of the top three rulings on immigration ever, because so many people have been deported from the United States for petty crimes," Arias said.
(Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News)