Provision for Deportation of Convicts in Certain Crimes is Vague: U.S. Supreme Court

The ruling by the US Supreme Court stated that vagueness involving crimes of violence provision created confusion in lower courts.


A part of the U.S. federal law that requires immigrants convicted of certain crimes of violence to be deported is too ambiguous to enforce, the Supreme Court said in its ruling on April 17. The ruling comes as a blow to U.S. President Donald Trump, as the judge selected by him to join the court, Neil Gorsuch, also joined the liberal justices in the decisive vote, the Guardian reported.

The Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling sided with convicted California burglar James Garcia Dimaya who is a legal immigrant from the Philippines. Dimaya’s deportation was ordered by federal authorities since he was convicted in two California home burglaries in 2007 and 2009. Neither of these two burglaries was associated with violence, according to Reuters.

The ruling was written by Justice Elena Kagan who said that vagueness that involved the provision over crimes of violence created confusion in lower courts. “Does car burglary qualify as a violent felony. Some courts say yes, another says no,” Kagan stated, according to Reuters. Kagan also pointed out other instances like evading arrest and trespassing where courts were divided.

“Today’s vague laws may not be as invidious, but they can invite the exercise of arbitrary power all the same — by leaving the people in the dark about what the law demands and allowing prosecutors and courts to make it up,” Gorsuch was quoted as saying in the Reuters report.

Soon after the court’s ruling, Trump criticized the decision on the social media, saying, “This is a public safety crisis.”

According to the U.S. federal criminal code, a crime of violence includes an offence where force was either used or carried a “substantial risk” that it would be used. If a person is convicted of a crime of violence, it would make the person fit for possible deportation.

According to the government, Dimaya could be deported as his convictions qualified as crimes of violence, allowing him to be removed under the immigration law. The case, Sessions v Dimaya, was argued initially in January 2017 by a court that was short of a member. The decision could not be made as the justices were deadlocked 4-4.

After Justice Gorsuch joined the court, the case was re-argued. Gorsuch this week sided with the liberal justices of the court to come to a majority decision that found the clause too vague, the Guardian reported.

“Today’s ruling significantly undermines Department of Homeland Security’s efforts to remove aliens convicted of certain violent crimes, including sexual assault, kidnapping, and burglary, from the United States,” Tyler Q. Houlto, Press Secretary of U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said in a statement. By preventing the federal government from removing known criminal aliens, the decision allows the United States to be a safe haven for criminals and makes the nation more vulnerable as a result, Houlto added.

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