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“A Crime of Violence” Deemed Unconstitutionally Vague

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a part of the Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) is unconstitutionally vague. Under the INA, any immigrant convicted of an “aggravated felony” after coming into the United States must be subject to deportation. An “aggravated felony” has been defined to include “a crime of violence for which the term of imprisonment [is] at least one year.” A “crime of violence” must be a felony and involve “a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.”
James Garcia Dimaya was a legal permanent resident in the United States who had been twice convicted of first-degree burglary. The U.S. government wanted to deport him for having committed an “aggravated felony.”
In a 5-4 decision, the majority of the Supreme Court concluded that the INA’s language was too vague for individuals to understand what conduct would be prohibited. In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down similar language in a criminal statute. Relying on that prior criminal case, the Supreme Court asserted that the INA language created “grave uncertainty about how to estimate the risk posed by the crime.” In fact, the majority opinion noted that the lower courts had been all over the place in their interpretation its meaning. That uncertainty deprived immigrants of adequate notice in violation of the due process clause. The Supreme Court utilized the same high standard on vagueness that applied in the prior criminal case because of the “grave nature of [civil] deportation.” Sessions v. Dimaya (April 17, 2018).