09 November 2004

Supreme Court Holds that There Must be Intent to Do Harm, Rather Than Mere Negligence For Something To Be a “Crime of Violence”

In Leocal v. Ashcroft, No. 03-583 (Sup. Ct. Nov. 9, 2004), the U.S. Supreme Court, overturning an 11th Circuit decision, said that a drunk-driving accident is not a ”crime of violence” that would justify the deportation of a lawful permanent resident.

The high court ruled unanimously in favor of a Haitian man from Northwest Miami-Dade County who was deported in 2002 after pleading guilty to felony DUI and serving two years in prison. The 11-page opinion was written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

At issue was whether the DUI offense was a ”crime of violence” because he had caused injury to others. Under immigration law, it fit the definition of an ”aggravated felony” that subjects the offender to deportation.

In its ruling, the high court said that a felony offense must require intent in causing harm — not mere negligence, as in Leocal’s case, for an immigrant to be deported.

Specifically in the decision Renquist stated ”Drunk driving is a nationwide problem, as evidenced by the efforts of legislatures to prohibit such conduct and impose appropriate remedies. But this fact does not warrant our shoehorning it into statutory sections where it does not fit.”

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