Leocal v. Ashcroft

PETITIONER: Josue Leocal
RESPONDENT: John D. Ashcroft, Attorney General, et al.
LOCATION: Texas State Capitol

DOCKET NO.: 03-583
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 543 US 1 (2004)
GRANTED: Feb 23, 2004
ARGUED: Oct 12, 2004
DECIDED: Nov 09, 2004

ADVOCATES:
Dan Himmelfarb - argued the cause for Respondents
J. Sedwick Sollers III - argued the cause for petitioner
Joseph S. Sollers, III - argued the cause for Petitioner

Facts of the case

A Florida court convicted Vietnam citizen Duan Le for driving under the influence and causing serious bodily injury. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) charged in federal immigration court that Le should be deported. The INS argued Le committed a crime of violence that was an aggravated felony under federal immigration laws - a deportable crime. The immigration court and an appellate immigration court ruled Le could be deported. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed.

Question

Is a conviction of driving under the influence and causing serious bodily injury a "crime of violence" under federal immigration law that allows the person to be deported as an aggravated felon?

Media for Leocal v. Ashcroft

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 12, 2004 in Leocal v. Ashcroft

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - November 09, 2004 in Leocal v. Ashcroft

John Paul Stevens:

I have an opinion to announce that was authored by the Chief Justice.

The case is Leocal against Ashcroft and it comes to us from the Eleventh Circuit.

Section 237(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act allows the Attorney General to remove any alien who is convicted of one of specified set of crimes including any offense that qualifies as a "crime of violence" under Section 16 of Title 18.

Petitioner is a lawful permanent resident who was convicted under Florida statute of driving under the influence of alcohol and causing serious bodily injury.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service classified the conviction as a crime of violence under Section 16 and charged him with being deportable from the United States.

An immigration judge and the Board of Immigration Appeals ordered petitioner's deportation.

The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit also holding that petitioner DUI offense is a crime of violence dismissed a petition for review.

We granted certiorari to resolve a conflict among the Courts of Appeals on the question and we now reverse.

In determining whether a particular offense is a crime of violence under Section 16 we looked to the elements and nature of the offense of conviction.

Under the Florida DUI statute petitioner committed a third degree felony by operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol and causing serious bodily injury to another.

Like the DUI statutes in many other states the Florida Statute does not require that a person have any particular mental state when violating the statute in order to be convicted.

Section 16 has two parts, neither of which makes petitioners DUI conviction a crime of violence.

First, Section 16A covers any offense that has as an element the use of physical force against the person or property of another.

Construing this provision in its context and giving the language its most natural meaning the requirement that a person use physical force against another person or property suggest a higher degree of intent than negligent or merely accidental conduct such as that involved in a DUI offense.

In theory, one may use something in an accidental manner, however it is much less natural to say that a person actively employs physical force against another person by accident.

The second part of Section 16 also does not cover petitioner's DUI offense.

Section 16(b) covers "any other offense that is a felony and that by its nature involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another maybe used in the course of committing the offense."

While this provision is in one sense broader than the first part of Section 16, since it covers offenses where physical force was not actually applied, it contains the same language we found dispositive before that there would be a substantial risk that physical force maybe used against the person or property of another.

This language connotes a higher mens rea than the accidental or negligent conduct involved in the DUI offense.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with our opinion.

The Chief Justice' opinion for the Court is unanimous.