The Supreme Court has ruled that an immigrant's second minor drug offense — possession of a single tablet of an anti-anxiety drug without a prescription — should not lead automatically to deportation.
The justices on Monday unanimously reversed a federal appeals court ruling that upheld the deportation to Mexico of Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo.
"Caruchuri-Rosendo, and others in his position, may now seek cancellation of removal and thereby avoid the harsh consequence of mandatory removal," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the court. He noted that immigrants may still be deported in such instances, but said immigration judges have the discretion to allow people to remain in this country.
Carachuri-Rosendo, a Mexican native in his early 30s, had been in the United States since he was five. He was deported after two convictions in Texas in consecutive years. In 2004, Carachuri-Rosendo received 20 days in jail after pleading guilty to possessing less than two ounces of marijuana. The following year, he spent 10 days in jail after pleading no contest to possessing one tablet of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax without a prescription.
In 2006, the federal government began deportation proceedings and said Carachuri-Rosendo could not appeal for leniency from federal authorities because his second conviction amounted to a serious, or aggravated, felony.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans agreed with the government. The Obama administration argued in the Supreme Court that ruling was correct because Carachuri-Rosendo's second conviction could have been treated as a serious crime under federal law.
But Stevens said the local prosecutor in Texas could have charged Carachuri-Rosendo with being a repeat offender, but didn't. So he was not convicted of a crime that would make his deportation automatic, Stevens said.
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