Deportation and DUI – Supreme Court

Deportation for Drunk Drivers Limited by U.S. Supreme
Court

Nov. 9 (Bloomberg) — A drunken-driving accident doesn’t necessarily
provide grounds for U.S. immigration officials to deport an alien, the
U.S. Supreme Court ruled.

The justices unanimously overturned a federal appeals court decision
that Josue Leocal could be deported to his native Haiti. The court said
Leocal’s conviction for a 2000 drunken-driving accident in Florida
doesn’t qualify as a “crime of violence,” a status that would authorize
deportation.

The opinion was written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who
hasn’t been at the court since his Oct. 25 announcement that he is being
treated for thyroid cancer. Justice John Paul Stevens, who presided as
the court heard arguments in two cases today, said Rehnquist would take
part in the cases by reviewing legal briefs and argument transcripts.

In the drunken-driving case, Rehnquist said the Florida law under
which Leocal was convicted requires only that prosecutors prove
negligence, not that they show recklessness or an intent to injure
someone. Rehnquist said that didn’t fit the category of “violent, active
crimes” that Congress sought to punish through the deportation law.

“Drunk driving is a nationwide problem, as evidenced by the efforts of
legislatures to prohibit such conduct and impose appropriate penalties,”
Rehnquist wrote. “But this fact does not warrant our shoehorning it into
statutory sections where it does not fit.”

The accident injured two people. Leocal pleaded guilty to two counts
of causing serious bodily injury while driving under the influence of
alcohol. He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison.

The case is Leocal v. Ashcroft, 03-583.

Last Updated: November 9, 2004 12:26 EST

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