No More Deportation for Minor Pot Charges

By Ben Feuerherd 04/24/13

The Supreme Court sides with an immigrant who was "wrongly" deported for possession of three joints.

Justice Sotomayor led the ruling. Photo via

US immigrants caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer be subject to mandatory deportation, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday. Those charged with minor possession will be able to at least appeal the automatic deportation punishment currently in place, the court ruled 7 to 2. The court sided with defendant Adrian Moncrieffe, who immigrated to the US from Jamaica when he was three years old, and was caught with a small amount of marijuana—3 joints—during a 2007 traffic stop in Georgia. After his arrest, Moncrieffe pled guilty to a charge of possession with the attempt to distribute. This being his first offense, he was spared jail time and was told the charge would be expunged in 5 years. But an immigration judge saw his crime as a felony punishable by deportation, under federal law, and Moncrieffe was deported to Jamaica. But yesterday, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said that his crime was too minor to warrant mandatory deportation, and she criticized the government for doling out such a harsh penalty. “This is the third time in seven years that we have considered whether the government has properly characterized a low-level drug offense as ‘illicit trafficking in a controlled substance,’ and thus an ‘aggravated felony.' Once again we hold that the government’s approach defies the commonsense conception of these terms,” she wrote. Her decision was backed by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan.

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Benjamin Feuerherd is a city reporter at the New York Post. He has previously worked for The Daily Beast and NBC. You can find him on Linkedin and Twitter