Skip to content

Young v. Holder oral argument

Yours truly attended the en banc oral argument today in Young v. Holder. Two judges led the questioning, Chief Judge Kozinski and Judge Kleinfeld. Judge Kozinski's questions suggested agreement with the government's argument that a plea to a charging document that alleges commission of an offense in the conjunctive (e.g., transportation, offer to sell, and sale) establishes admission to violating the crime in all of the various alleged ways of committing the offense.

Judge Kleinfeld (a former criminal defense attorney) repeatedly cited the historical practice of charging in the conjunctive and proving or pleading in the disjunctive. In other words, he recognized that prosecutors charge all of the various ways of committing an offense under the statute even where the defendant only committed it in one way. He thus strongly suggested that a plea to a complaint in the conjunctive established a plea to only one of the offenses.

On the other hand, questions by Judge Kleinfeld and other judges indicated that they might overrule the decision in Sandoval Lua. Sandoval Lua held that an inconclusive record of conviction was sufficient to establish eligibility for relief from removal. Thus, where a defendant is convicted of an offense that could be an aggravated felony or could not be an aggravated felony, Sandoval Lua had held that an ambiguous record was sufficient to avoid ineligibility for cancellation of removal (which is not available for persons convicted of aggravated felonies).

I had predicted the possibility of Sandoval Lua being overruled in a previous blog post, but certainly hope that I am not proved right. The loss of Sandoval Lua is a troubling possibility, since it is not always possible to obtain crystal clear records of conviction--particularly for convictions from years or even decades in the past.

Watch the oral argument at