Mellouli v. Lynch

Recently, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision in Mellouli v. Lynch that the Department of Homeland Security must prove that a state drug paraphernalia conviction relates to a federally controlled substance in order to prove deportability under the immigration statute. In the case, Mr. Mellouli, a lawful permanent resident, was ordered deported based on a Kansas misdemeanor drug paraphernalia conviction for possession of a sock used to hide four tablets of the prescription drug Adderall.

For purposes of removal, the immigration statute requires that a drug conviction under state law must relate to a controlled substance as defined by federal law. This requirement is important because some states ban additional substances than those regulated by federal law. In Mr. Mellouli’s case, the charging document had no specific mention of the controlled substance and whether it was controlled by federal law, but the immigration court and Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) ordered Mellouli deported from the United States.

Whereas courts defer to the BIA’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. But Justice Ginsburg, writing for the Court, saw no need for deference here, because the BIA’s interpretation “ma[de] scant sense.” This decision will likely force prosecutors to make specific mention of the controlled substance in question as it relates to federal law, but will likely not impact the sheer numbers of deportations based on drug offenses.

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