In a decision with rather shoddy reasoning, in this blogger’s opinion, the panel held that the noncitizen was barred from withholding of removal under INA 241(b)(3) for conviction of a particularly serious crime.
The offered justification for concluding that the respondent’s residential burglary conviction(s) (one, or all three collectively, the opinion does not say) is a particularly serious crime is that California residential burglary is a crime of violence under 18 USC 16(b). As a crime of violence with a sentence to a year or more, a crime would be an aggravated felony, but that does not automatically equate to a particularly serious crime, as the panel acknowledges. Rather, the panel seems to simply equate a crime of violence with a particularly serious crime. It did not cite any authority for this conclusion and this blogger is not aware of any. It did not even discuss this premise in any detail, suggesting that it was an oversight.
The panel held that “residential burglary under California Penal Code § 459 constitutes a crime of violence because it is a felony ‘that, by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.’ 18 U.S.C. § 16(b).” This is contrary to the reasoning of a recent en banc Ninth Circuit.
The Ninth Circuit in Aguila Montes de Oca recognized that California’s burglary statute penalizes entry into a residence with intent to commit theft or any felony even if the entry is licensed or privileged or even at the owner’s personal invitation. See People v. Frye, 959 P.2d 183 (Cal. 1998), overruled on other grounds by People v. Doolin, 198 P.3d 11 (Cal. 2009). For example, a servant who enters his master’s house with the intent to appropriate the family silver while at work commits a residential burglary under California law. Likewise the firefighter who enters a burning building with the intent to appropriate valuables while fighting a fire. Thus, the Ninth Circuit held that California burglary is not categorically a burglary under the generic federal definition, which requires an unlawful or unprivileged entry.
Whether a California burglary meets the generic federal definition is admittedly a different question than whether the crime involves a substantial risk that (violent) physical force will be used in the course of committing the crime. And the Lopez-Cardona panel distinguished Aguila on this basis. However, the servant and firefighter examples of licensed or privileged entries are precisely the types of situations where a California burglary would not by its nature involve a substantial risk of the use of physical force being used in the course of the crime. Another example, courtesy of the ILRC, shows it even more clearly: a person commits a California burglary when he enters a home at the owner’s invitation with the intent to fraudulently sell worthless life insurance. That type of theft or felony does not carry an inherent risk of violent physical force being used in the course of the crime. So, it is not categorically a crime of violence (although that still might be established under the modified categorical approach, particularly post-Aguila).
Finally, the decision notably failed to even cite the Ninth Circuit’s recent tour-de-force decision by another panel on the particularly serious crime bar to withholding–Delgado v. Holder. Just another indication that this decision was not carefully vetted.
Read the decision at http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/datastore/opinions/2011/11/18/09-71661.pdf