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Supreme Court Rules in Immigration, Aggravated Felony Case

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By Javier Lavagnino, Esq. on June 15, 2009 10:52 AM

The Unforeseen Consequences of Criminal Proceedings

The Supreme Court today may have limited the role a jury must play for aliens facing deportation based on certain past criminal offenses. Pretty much everyone knows that getting convicted of a criminal offense can bring with it serious consequences ranging from jail or prison time, to fines and/or job loss. But for aliens (including lawful permanent residents) facing criminal charges, today's ruling may further emphasize that what goes on during their criminal proceedings can lead to later consequences they might not expect.

Immigration law allow for the deportation of aliens convicted of an "aggravated felony". Immigration laws go on to list various crimes and types of crimes that qualify as these aggravated felonies, and sometimes the language in those definitions can set a hard line for when a crime will become aggravated in nature. The language that the Supreme Court addressed today, for example, dealt with crimes of fraud or deceit and makes an alien deportable if such a crime involves a loss of more than $10,000 by the victims.

The Supreme Court said that an immigration judge can look into the circumstances under which a crime of fraud or deceit was committed to determine whether the particular conviction involved a $10,000 loss. In this case, the former defendant had stipulated (agreed) during his sentencing proceedings that the loss to the victims involved more than $100 million, and this sort of evidence on loss was pretty much all the immigration judge needed to find him deportable. No jury findings were required on the amount of loss, even though such facts were crucial to the eventual deportation.

Considering the huge amount of loss to the victims apparently involved here, this case probably doesn't make anyone particularly sympathetic to the deported individual (Manoh Nijhawan), but the case does illustrate how, in run-of-the-mill cases, agreements, statements, and findings made during the course of a criminal case could end up carrying significant consequences elsewhere later on.

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