On June 1, 2015, in Mellouli v. Lynch, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that a non-citizen who was convicted of misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia could not be deported for that offense. Mr. Mellouli was a lawful permanent resident (commonly referred to as a “green card holder”) living in Kansas. He was stopped by police in 2010 for a traffic-related offense. A search at the jail discovered four pills in Mr. Mellouli’s sock. The pills were never identified in relevant court documents but the allegation was the pills were Adderrall (ADHD medication). Kansas prosecutors charged Mr. Mellouli with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia on the theory that his sock was used to “store, conceal, or contain” the pills. Mr. Mellouli pleaded guilty and was put on probation for 1 year, and was subsequently deported by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The reason for the deportation was the paraphernalia conviction in Kansas.
The U.S. Supreme Court said Mr. Mellouli should not have been deported. Why? Under federal immigration law, a non-citizen may be deported if convicted of a violation “relating to” a list of federally controlled substances. However, Mr. Mellouli was convicted under a statedrug offense, and each state defines “drugs” and “controlled substances” differently. In Kansas, it is a crime to possess many drugs that are not found on the federal list of controlled substances. This means a person could be criminal charged for possessing pills in Kansas, but would not have broken any federal law. In Mr. Mellouli’s case, the prosecutor never identified the pills found in Mr. Mellouli’s sock. Also, the Kansas law of paraphernalia possession is not a federal crime (but sale of drug paraphernalia is). Mr. Mellouli appealed his deportation decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) that decided his deportation was valid. Mr. Mellouli then appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals but lost again. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling that DHS must prove a state drug paraphernalia conviction relates to a federally controlled substance in order to deport someone.
Immigration law is complex and constantly changing. Navigating each state’s criminal laws when deciding how a conviction or even a charge may affect a non-citizens ability to stay in the United States is sometimes overwhelming. If you are a non-citizen facing criminal charges in state or federal court, working with both a criminal defense attorney and immigration lawyer is a must.
Keyser Law, P.A. is a criminal defense and immigration law firm in Minneapolis, Minnesota. We help non-citizens charged with criminal offenses in state and federal court. We also help non-citizens secure legal status in the United States. Call us for a free consultation at (612) 338-5007.