The NACDL brief asks the Supreme Court to hear our case for two main reasons – because the criminal rule of lenity is important and should be applied to this case, and because the Sixth Circuit’s and the BIA’s handling of the case results in serious problems for persons accused of certain crimes, criminal defense lawyers, and immigration lawyers.
First, NACDL explains that the list of crimes labeled “aggravated felonies” in the Immigration and Nationality Act makes up a statute that has both civil and criminal applications, and is thus referred to as a “hybrid” statute. The NACDL argues, in agreement with Judge Jeffrey Sutton’s dissent in the Sixth Circuit decision in our case, that if the “hybrid” statute at issue in our case is “ambiguous,” meaning capable of two or more different valid interpretations, then the criminal rule of lenity applies.
The rule of lenity is similar to the baseball rule that the “tie goes to the batter” – if the runner gets to the base at exactly the same time as the fielder with the ball, then the runner is safe. Similarly, if a statute with criminal applications is ambiguous, then the statute must be interpreted in a manner that is more favorable to the criminal defendant.
Second, NACDL argues that the BIA and the Sixth Circuit handled the categorical approach in an improper way that led to the result against my client. The Supreme Court has stated, in a number of cases, that agencies such as the BIA and reviewing courts must use a “generic, contemporary definition” of a crime – a definition that is shared by a majority of states, as well as the federal government.
At issue in this case is the definition of “sexual abuse of a minor.” A major problem with the way the BIA and the Sixth Circuit handled this case is that neither ever provided a “generic, contemporary defintion” of what “sexual abuse of a minor” actually IS. As a result, my client was labeled as an “aggravated felon” and deported from the United States, because he engaged in conduct that is perfectly legal under federal law, as well as the laws of 43 states and the District of Columbia. As NACDL explains, the BIA and the Sixth Circuit failed to apply the categorical approach correctly in this case.
Because we still don’t know exactly what “sexual abuse of a minor” is, because the BIA has not told us what it is, criminal defense attorneys and immigration lawyers are not able to properly advise their clients who have been charged with certain crimes, because no one knows whether a certain crime will end up being labeled as an “aggravated felony,” because, again, we don’t have a clear definition of what “sexual abuse of a minor” is.
NACDL urges the Supreme Court to hear this case, in order to clear up the disagreements among the circuit courts, to address the issue of the rule of lenity, and to provide a proper application of the categorical approach, so that we will all be able to know, once and for all, what the “aggravated felony” of “sexual abuse of a minor” is, and what it is not.