Skip to content

Pedro Jose Hernandez-Cruz v. Holder

In another brilliant decision by Judge Berzon, the Ninth Circuit rejected the BIA's determination that California second-degree commercial burglary is an attempted theft offense that qualifies as an aggravated felony with a sentence to a year or more. It also held that the offense is not a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) either.


The BIA had held that entering a building with the intent to commit theft amounted to an overt act that constituted a substantial step toward completion of the theft. The Ninth Circuit disagreed, primarily because the building the petitioner entered was a business open to the public.Mere preparation to commit a crime does not constitute attempt. The difference between making preparations and taking a substantial step toward the commission of a crime is one of degree. A suspect crosses the line separating preparation from attempt when his actions unequivocally demonstrate that the crime will take place unlessinterrupted by independent circumstances.

The Ninth Circuit held that, for example, breaking into a locked vehicle amounted to a substantial step toward the completed offense of theft, since it is the type of conduct that strongly corroborates the criminal purpose to commit theft. On the other hand, simply walking into a store open for business does not. Most people who walk into a store do not commit theft, so it is not the type of act that is substantial enough for attempt.


The Ninth Circuit also determined that commercial burglary is not a CIMT. It first determined that it owed no deference to the BIA's holding on this point, since it was unpublished and not persuasive because the brief analysis either misapprehended the elements of California burglary or Ninth Circuit precedent. Namely, the BIA appeared to equate commercial burglary with residential burglary.

The Ninth then determined that commercial burglary was not equivalent to traditional CIMT's. It is not equivalent to theft because it does not involve a taking or deprivation, and it is not an attempted theft offense as discussed above. Nor does it involve fraud, since there is nothing explicitly or implicitly fraudulent about walking into a store.

Nor is entering a commercial building open to the public with the intent to commit theft a crime that is so depraved or reprehensible that it otherwise amounts to a CIMT. "To hold otherwise would mean that someone who did what Hernandez Cruz admitted doing—walking into a commercial building with the intent to commit larceny—but then changed his mind and walked out without ever committing any crime, would be guilty of a CIMT." "If it did, the phrase 'moral turpitude' would be devoid of all meaning."Of course, BIA precedent has gone a long way toward sapping the meaning from moral turpitude.

Read decision at