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Moones Mellouli v. Lynch

The Supreme Court reached the sensible decision in this case that a noncitizen is deportable for a drug paraphernalia conviction only if the government proves the conviction relates to a substance appearing on the federal controlled substances schedules.  This decision provides a valuable plea option for some minor drug cases, at least in states that control substances that do not appear on the federal schedules.

Here, Mellouli was arrested for DUI and at booking his sock was found to contain 4 pills.  At the time, he allegedly admitted they were Adderall and that he did not have a prescription.  In court, Mellouli pleaded guilty to possession of drug paraphernalia (the sock), but the drug that the paraphernalia charge related to was not specified in the charging document or his plea.  The identity of the substance thus was not established by the conviction. This is significant because Kansas law at the time controlled some substances that do not appear in the federal schedules, so simply having a paraphernalia conviction in Kansas did not establish a conviction relating to a federal controlled substance.

Relying on Matter of Martinez Espinoza, 25 I&N Dec. 118 (2009), the immigration judge and Board of Immigration Appeals held that the government did not need to prove that Mellouli's paraphernalia conviction related to Adderall or any other specified controlled substance. It was enough that the sock related to "the drug trade in general."

The Supreme Court disagreed and once again faithfully applied the categorical approach, as it has in a string of recent decisions.  The categorical approach requires that the elements of a conviction necessarily match the elements of a federal generic definition.  If there is no match, then there is no penalty--in this case, no deportability.  The text of the deportability statute here requires that a conviction "relat[e] to a controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of Title 21)."  If the conviction does not necessarily relate to a controlled substance as defined in section 802 of Title 21 (the federal Controlled Substances Act) because state law covers one or more substances not covered by federal law, then the noncitizen is not necessarily deportable.