United States Supreme Court: “Crime of Violence” is Unconstitutional
In 2015, the United States Supreme Court declared part of a federal law’s definition which included the term “violent felony” unconstitutionally vague. See Johnson v. United States, 576 U.S. ___, 135 S. Ct. 2251 (2015). Thereafter, a similar question arose before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wherein the term “crime of violence” was challenged for having the same impermissibly vague defect. The Ninth Circuit was tasked with reviewing a Board of Immigration Appeals order for removal, and in so doing, held that 18 U.S.C. § 16(b), which includes the phrase, “crime of
violence,” was unconstitutionally vague. See Garcia-Dimaya v. Lynch, 803 F.3d 1110 (9th Cir. 2015). Subsequently, the government appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
First-Degree Burglary Conviction Was A Crime Of Violence
At issue was the government’s desire to deport James Dimaya after his second California burglary conviction. The Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) had previously determined that his first-degree burglary conviction was a “crime of violence” and therefore an “aggravated felony,” which requires deportation pursuant to the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”). The INA requires that any alien convicted of an “aggravated felony” must be deported. This includes a conviction for a “crime of violence,” as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 16.
Armed Career Criminal Act
While Dimaya’s appeal was pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Johnson v. United States, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), that the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (“ACCA”) contained in 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(2)(B)(ii) was unconstitutionally “void for vagueness” under the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. The clause reads in pertinent part “or otherwise involves conduct that presents a serious potential risk of physical injury to another.”
Following the Johnson decision, Dimaya argued that the language in 18 U.S.C. § 16 was materially similar to the ACCA, and thus also unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal agreed and declared “crime of violence” unconstitutionally vague. Following two rounds of oral argument, the Supreme Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling, and also held that the phrase “crime of violence” as used in 18 U.S.C. § 16 is unconstitutionally vague.
Void For Vagueness Doctrine
In its opinion, the Supreme Court analogizes its earlier decision in Johnson with the present case. The Court noted that “Johnson is a straightforward decision, with equally straightforward application here.” In applying its holding from Johnson, the Court again applied the “void for vagueness doctrine” and determined that “crime of violence” does not provide fair notice of what conduct is actually prohibited (or in turn, what conduct would result in deportation under the INA). This marks the second time in recent years that the Court has struck down a federal statute for vagueness. This so called “void-for-vagueness doctrine” guarantees that ordinary people have fair notice of the conduct a statute proscribes. See Papachristou v. Jacksonville, 405 U. S. 156, 162 (1972). 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 (1983).
Ordinary Case Under The Crime Of Violence
More specifically, the Court determined that the language of 18 U.S.C § 16(b) suffers from the same constitutional deficiencies as the ACCA’s residual clause in Johnson because § 16(b) requires courts to identify a crime’s “ordinary case” in order to measure the crime’s risk, yet nothing in the statute exists to assist courts with this “ordinary case” analysis. The Court noted that the application of the “ordinary case” analysis is excessively speculative. The Court went on to conclude that defining the “ordinary case” under the “crime of violence” provision poses the same vagueness and due process problems, including unpredictability and arbitrariness, as those identified in Johnson. As the Court summed it up, “Johnson tells us how to resolve this case. … [N]one of the minor linguistic disparities in the statutes makes any real difference.”
Although this decision will have little effect on persons already facing criminal deportation, this decision is still significant because it is one of the first times that the United State Supreme Court has said, though indirectly, that the United States Constitution applies to the interpretation of the country’s immigration laws.
The attorneys at The Wright Law Group, P.C. have more than 25 years of experience defending clients in both state and federal court. If you are facing criminal charges, call us today at 702-405-0001. Our attorneys are well equipped to assist you, and our consultations are always free and confidential.