Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez

PETITIONER: Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General
RESPONDENT: Luis Alexander Duenas-Alvarez
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 05-1629
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 549 US 183 (2007)
GRANTED: Sep 26, 2006
ARGUED: Dec 05, 2006
DECIDED: Jan 17, 2007

Christopher J. Meade - argued the cause for Respondent
Dan Himmelfarb - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

Luis Duenas-Alvarez, a Peruvian citizen living in California, was convicted of unlawful driving or taking of a vehicle. The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) allows for the deportation of aliens who are convicted of an aggravated felony, which includes "theft offenses." The Department of Homeland Security began deportation proceedings against Duenas-Alvarez. An immigration judge ruled in favor of the government and ordered Duenas-Alvarez deported to Peru, and the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed.

On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Duenas-Alvarez argued that he was not guilty of a theft offense for purposes of the INA because he had only aided and abetted the theft of the car. The California anti-theft law did not distinguish between auto-theft and merely aiding an auto-theft, but the Ninth Circuit had ruled that the INA "theft offense" includes only the person who actually stole and took possession of the car, and not necessarily anyone who aided in the theft. Accordingly, the Circuit Court ruled in favor of Duenas-Alvarez and reversed the lower courts.


Does the "theft offense" aggravated felony in the Immigration and Nationality Act include aiding and abetting a theft?

Media for Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 2006 in Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 17, 2007 in Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Breyer has the opinion this morning in 05-1629, Gonzales versus Duenas-Alvarez.

Stephen G. Breyer:

The Immigration Law provides for the removal from the United States of an alien who has been convicted of “a theft offense” for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year.

Now the question presented here is whether the term “theft offense” which of here is not immigration statute includes aiding and abetting of theft offense.

The Ninth Circuit thought it didn’t but we hold it does.

What the Immigration Act does is it list offences and conviction for any one of those offences can subject an alien to removal from the United States.

Now, our problem of course is that the states have a lot of different definitions of crimes like burglary or theft.

So how do you know if a particular state definition falls within the crime theft offence or burglary, or some other listed crime.

This court has applied an approach which was set forth Taylor v. United States and Shepherd v. United States and that approach says in this to solve of this problem what you do is you look for the generic definition of an offense like burglary, which is the most common state definition, and if the state statute would list the crime that falls within that common definition then it fits and it's a theft offense or a burglary or whatever.

So we apply that framework to a person who is convicted of violating a particular section of the California Vehicle Code that doesn’t say theft but it criminalizes the taking of a vehicle without the owners consent or the aiding in abetting of a taking of a vehicle without the owners consent.

So the question is what about an aider and abettor.

Does he like a principal fall within the scope of generic definition of theft as most states apply that term.

Well we end up thinking that it does, it does fall within it because we looked up.

However, jurisdiction considers the matter and every jurisdiction as far as we can tell has “expressly abrogated the distinction” between principals on the one hand and aiders and abettors who would help a principal before or during the crime.

Now since every state has oblige that distinction then the term theft is now used in the criminal codes of most states does cover aiders and abettors as well as principals and therefore the aiders and abettors have to fall within the term “theft” as it's used generically in the federal statute and that’s why we reverse the Ninth Circuit.

In addition, the Duenas-Alvarez argues, well, California’s law is special and not the same as other states in a particular respect, namely they have the special doctrine called the natural and probable consequences doctrine which could hold the person liable for natural and probable consequences even though he never intended to do the thing.

Or we looked that up and the cases that we read convinced us that California doesn’t have a special doctrine in that respect that it's closing up to the doctrine of the other states to be treated similarly.

Then Duenas-Alvarez makes two more arguments and he says “well this statute penalizes joyriding and it also penalizes an aider and abettor who is an accessory after the fact.

Now there we say that was not in the question presented that Ninth Circuit didn’t decided, and so the Ninth Circuit didn’t look at that on remand.

The result is we have reversed the Ninth Circuit on the question they have decided and we are sending it back for further work on these other questions.

Justice Stevens has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.