AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. The Supreme Court bit off a piece of the immigration puzzle today. In a 7-2 decision, the court ruled that a longtime legal resident of the U.S. was improperly deported for possession of a small amount of marijuana. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Adrian Moncrieffe immigrated to the United States with his parents from Jamaica in 1984. He was 3 years old then. He and his family were all legal residents. He grew up, became a home health care worker, married and had a family. In 2007, during a routine traffic stop, police found a small amount of marijuana in the car, about enough to make two or three cigarettes.

Moncrieffe, who had no prior record, was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute. That's a generic felony under Georgia law and allows for a wide range of sentences. His lawyer did not advise him that if he pled guilty, he could be deported, a requirement that the U.S. Supreme Court has since imposed. Ignorant of the immigration consequences, Moncrieffe accepted a plea deal under which he would avoid prison and have his conviction expunged after five years' probation.

The federal government, however, first put him in immigration detention and then deported him to Jamaica, contending that under federal law, there was no discretion on the matter since Moncrieffe had been convicted of an aggravated felony. Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Moncrieffe's Georgia conviction was not, in fact, an aggravated felony under federal law.

Writing for the seven-member majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that where the amount is small and there is no sale, the crime does not qualify as an aggravated felony. Rather, it's a low-level offense that's not a felony at all under federal law. The government's attempt to characterize such an offense as an aggravated felony, she said, defies the commonsense conception of these terms.

Moncrieffe, the father of five American children, was close to tears upon learning of the court decision today.

ADRIAN MONCRIEFFE: It's just a good day for my family, for me and my family.

TOTENBERG: The decision means he can now ask the immigration service to allow him to return to the U.S. and to his wife and children. Most experts say he has an excellent chance of succeeding, given the fact that he has no real ties to Jamaica, that his family is here, and that his conviction by now has actually been expunged from the record under Georgia law. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.