Skip to content

In this decision issued in June of 2015, the Board of Immigration Appeals stated that the "ordinary case" test applies to its determination of whether a felony battery conviction under section 784.041(1) of the Florida Statutes meets the crime of violence definition at 18 U.S.C. 16(b).

The ordinary case analysis (and I use the term "analysis" with some hesitation) means that a court applies judicial imagination to hypothesize whether a particular offense would typically involve a substantial risk that the offender may use violence in the course of committing the offense. For example, the Supreme Court has found that residential burglary is the classic example of such an offense, even though the burglar may commit the offense when no one is home and the risk of violence being used is little to none.

Mario Francisco-Alonzo had argued that the Supreme Court's 2013 decision in Moncrieffe v. Holder meant that a crime is a crime of violence only if the least conduct that has a probability of being prosecuted involves a substantial risk of violence. He argued that an offender could commit battery in violation of section 784.041(1) with only a minimal amount of force but still cause serious harm to a so-called eggshell victim and that such a case would not involve a substantial risk of violence. The Board conceded that there might be a situation where a defendant could be prosecuted for use of minimal force against an eggshell victim, but the Board rejected his argument because it concluded that is not the ordinary case for felony battery under section 784.041(1).

DOWNLOAD (PDF, 182KB)

In this illegal reentry case, a Ninth Circuit panel held that battery on a peace officer that causes injury in violation of California Penal Code (CPC) section 242/243(c)(2) is categorically a crime of violence under the sentencing equivalent of the definition at 18 U.S.C. 16(a) (effectively tripling the prison exposure).  It found CPC 243(c)(2) requires as an element the willful use of force against the person of another sufficient to cause injury.  It notes a California Court of Appeal decision that equates willful with intentional and thus concludes that a battery willfully inflicted that causes injury is a crime of violence.

Seems reasonable at first glance, except the court glosses over a lot in a way one wouldn't expect for a published decision.  First, the willfulness that the court makes a big deal about is located in the definitional statute at 242.  That willfulness is just the general intent to effect a simple battery.  A simple battery can include any form of unlawful touching--even a push that causes no injury.  And the Ninth Circuit has previously held that a simple battery with that type of intent is not a crime of violence.  Ortega-Mendez v. Gonzales, 450 F.3d 1010 (9th Cir. 2006) (simple battery against a domestic victim is not a crime of violence for purposes of the domestic violence ground of deportability).

It is the resulting injury that triggers the enhanced sentence at 243(c)(2), and the injury need not be intentional.  Thus, pushing a peace officer would be punishable under CPC 243(b) (misdemeanor) if it causes no injury, while the same push with the same level of force would be punishable under CPC 243(c)(2) (felony or misdemeanor) if it causes the cop to trip over something and he needs an ice pack (we are not talking great bodily injury, or GBI, here).  Either way, it does not matter what the defendant intended because there is no element of specific intent to cause injury, just the general intent to complete the contact.

This is why the court's reliance on United States v. Laurico-Yeno, 590 F.3d 818 (9th Cir. 2010) is way off base.  Laurico-Yeno concerned CPC 273.5, which penalizes a person who "willfully inflicts upon [a protected domestic victim] corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition." There, unlike CPC 242/243(c)(2), the injury is willfully inflicted.

It gets worse, though.  The California Court of Appeals opinion that the panel cites for support actually undermines its position.  The discussion of willfulness in People v. Lewis, 15 Cal. Rptr. 3d 891, 901 (CA 4 2004) first notes, "Usually the word "willfully" defines a general intent crime unless the statutory language requires an intent to do some further act or achieve some future consequence."  Therefore, "When the structure of a section requires a willful act followed by some particular result, then it is reasonable to read the willful, i.e., intentional, element as referring only to the initial act and not to the ultimate result. In such sections the word "willfully" does not require the defendant intend the ultimate result, only that he or she intended the initial act." That is precisely why a simple battery that results in injury (that need not be intended) does not comport with the Supreme Court's holding in Leocal that a crime of violence must actually be violent.

Let's hope there is a request for en banc rehearing to reconcile this case with Ortega-Mendez and with the spirit of the Supreme Court's recent decisions.

DOWNLOAD (PDF, 75KB)

In a matter of first impression in this circuit, the Ninth Circuit found that the BIA could consider a sentence enhancement in determining whether a non-aggravated felony conviction was nonetheless a particularly serious crime that would bar withholding of removal.  Konou had argued it could not because Ninth Circuit precedent holds a sentencing enhancement cannot be considered when determining if a conviction is an aggravated felony.  The court pointed out that a conviction does not need to meet the aggravated felony definition in order to be deemed particularly serious.  The particularly serious crime determination is a discretionary case-by-case determination.

DOWNLOAD (PDF, 106KB)

The Supreme Court held a conviction for simple battery against a domestic victim triggers the prohibition against firearms possession at 8 USC 922(g)(9), a federal crime. Immigration advocates had feared that a holding along these lines would be used to justify expanding the domestic violence ground of deportability to also include simple battery against a domestic victim--making deportable, for example, an immigrant convicted of the misdemeanor offense of pushing his wife.

Fortunately, however, the Court explicitly stated at footnote 4 that nothing in its decision should cast doubt on precedent that holds simple battery against a domestic victim does not implicate the deportability ground. The court recognized that the deportability ground incorporates the generally-applicable "crime of violence" definition at 18 USC 16, which the Court has repeatedly held applies only to the active use of violent force capable of causing injury.

The criminal statute in Castleman did not include that reference to 18 USC 16, so the Court applied a much more expansive definition of domestic violence, over Justice Scalia's objections. It cited arguments and statistics by advocacy groups and the Department of Justice to explain why a simple battery that would not be considered "violent" in the ordinary sense is "violent" when it occurs in the domestic context, since it often occurs as part of a pattern of intimidation and control.

DOWNLOAD (PDF, 176KB)

510-835-1115