Category Archives: Aggravated Felony

New California Law Limits Misdemeanors to 364 Day Maximum Sentence

In yet another positive development in the State of California, the maximum potential sentence to imprisonment for misdemeanors is now 364 days. It accomplishes this by adding section 18.5 to the Penal Code, which provides:

Every offense which is prescribed by any law of the state to be punishable by imprisonment in a county jail up to or not exceeding one year shall be punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed 364 days.

Governor Brown signed the bill, SB 1310, on July 21, 2014. Since the text of the bill does not specify otherwise, criminal defense attorneys should assume that the change does not go into effect until January 1, 2015.  Until then, attorneys should pursue other strategies to protect their clients.

There are three major benefits for non-citizens convicted of a misdemeanor that carries a 364 day maximum potential sentence.  First, the conviction could not meet the federal definition of an aggravated felony based on a 365 day sentence to imprisonment (be careful, though, because some aggravated felonies do not require any sentence to imprisonment).

Second, a California misdemeanor conviction would no longer make an immigrant deportable for conviction of a single crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) committed within 5 years of admission, since that ground of deportability only applies if the conviction carries a maximum potential sentence to imprisonment of one year or more.

Third, a single misdemeanor CIMT conviction that results in a sentence to imprisonment of 6 months or less would no longer automatically disqualify a non-permanent resident from cancellation of removal.  Cancellation of removal is discretionary relief from removal based on continuous physical presence of 10 or more years and exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to a citizen or permanent resident family member.

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U.S. v. Cristobal Colon-Arreola

In this illegal reentry case, a Ninth Circuit panel held that battery on a peace officer that causes injury in violation of California Penal Code (CPC) section 242/243(c)(2) is categorically a crime of violence under the sentencing equivalent of the definition at 18 U.S.C. 16(a) (effectively tripling the prison exposure).  It found CPC 243(c)(2) requires as an element the willful use of force against the person of another sufficient to cause injury.  It notes a California Court of Appeal decision that equates willful with intentional and thus concludes that a battery willfully inflicted that causes injury is a crime of violence.

Seems reasonable at first glance, except the court glosses over a lot in a way one wouldn’t expect for a published decision.  First, the willfulness that the court makes a big deal about is located in the definitional statute at 242.  That willfulness is just the general intent to effect a simple battery.  A simple battery can include any form of unlawful touching–even a push that causes no injury.  And the Ninth Circuit has previously held that a simple battery with that type of intent is not a crime of violence.  Ortega-Mendez v. Gonzales, 450 F.3d 1010 (9th Cir. 2006) (simple battery against a domestic victim is not a crime of violence for purposes of the domestic violence ground of deportability).

It is the resulting injury that triggers the enhanced sentence at 243(c)(2), and the injury need not be intentional.  Thus, pushing a peace officer would be punishable under CPC 243(b) (misdemeanor) if it causes no injury, while the same push with the same level of force would be punishable under CPC 243(c)(2) (felony or misdemeanor) if it causes the cop to trip over something and he needs an ice pack (we are not talking great bodily injury, or GBI, here).  Either way, it does not matter what the defendant intended because there is no element of specific intent to cause injury, just the general intent to complete the contact.

This is why the court’s reliance on United States v. Laurico-Yeno, 590 F.3d 818 (9th Cir. 2010) is way off base.  Laurico-Yeno concerned CPC 273.5, which penalizes a person who “willfully inflicts upon [a protected domestic victim] corporal injury resulting in a traumatic condition.” There, unlike CPC 242/243(c)(2), the injury is willfully inflicted.

It gets worse, though.  The California Court of Appeals opinion that the panel cites for support actually undermines its position.  The discussion of willfulness in People v. Lewis, 15 Cal. Rptr. 3d 891, 901 (CA 4 2004) first notes, “Usually the word “willfully” defines a general intent crime unless the statutory language requires an intent to do some further act or achieve some future consequence.”  Therefore, “When the structure of a section requires a willful act followed by some particular result, then it is reasonable to read the willful, i.e., intentional, element as referring only to the initial act and not to the ultimate result. In such sections the word “willfully” does not require the defendant intend the ultimate result, only that he or she intended the initial act.” That is precisely why a simple battery that results in injury (that need not be intended) does not comport with the Supreme Court’s holding in Leocal that a crime of violence must actually be violent.

Let’s hope there is a request for en banc rehearing to reconcile this case with Ortega-Mendez and with the spirit of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions.

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U.S. v. Armando Cabrera-Perez

The Ninth Circuit held that aggravated assault in violation of Arizona Revised Statute 13-1203 is not categorically a crime of violence pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 16(a) because it encompasses reckless conduct in addition to knowing or intentional conduct.  A mens rea of mere recklessness is not enough–the Ninth Circuit has held that at least extreme recklessness is required.  Applying the modified categorical analysis, however, the court found  the defendant pleaded guilty to charges that alleged only intentionally placing the victim in reasonable apprehension of imminent physical injury.  It thus was a crime of violence.

Since the defendant received a 12 month sentence for this crime of violence conviction, the court held it was an aggravated felony. This aggravated felony conviction precluded voluntary departure in the removal proceedings that followed, so the defendant was not prejudiced when the immigration judge did not advise him about voluntary departure.  The court therefore found he could not collaterally attack the removal order and upheld his conviction for a subsequent attempted illegal reentry with a sentence of 70 months.

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U.S. v. Faustino Gomez

In this criminal prosecution for illegal entry after removal, the Ninth Circuit held that an Arizona conviction for attempted sexual contact with a minor under the age of 15, in violation of ARS 13-1405B, does not meet the federal generic definition of sexual abuse of a minor. It therefore remanded for re-sentencing. It also held, though, that the defendant could not establish prejudice resulted from a violation of his due process rights in the stipulated removal proceedings that preceded his removal because at the time the offense was considered an aggravated felony for sexual abuse of a minor in the Ninth Circuit. It just goes to show how quickly the law can change.

ARS 13-1405B has three elements: (1) a mens rea of “intentionally or knowingly”; (2) an act of “engaging in sexual intercourse or oral sexual contact”; and (3) a victim “who is under fifteen years of age.” The court found this did not meet either of the alternative federal generic definitions of sexual abuse of a minor. First, it is not sexual abuse of a minor as statutory rape because Arizona law, unlike federal law, does not require an age difference of 4 years. Second, ARS 13-1405B does not meet the alternative generic definition of sexual abuse of a minor, which requires that: (1) “the conduct proscribed . . . is sexual;” (2) “the statute protects a minor;” and (3) “the statute requires abuse.” Ninth Circuit precedent presumes that sexual contact with a minor under the age of 14 is inherently abusive, but ARS 13-1405B covers both 14 year-olds and those younger than 14. The panel declined to extend that inherent abusiveness presumption to 14 year-olds. Nor did it find any other element of abuse in this offense, since it involves consensual sex.

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Matter of Siegfred Ara Sierra

The Board held that the Nevada offense of attempted violation of NRS 205.273 (possession of a stolen vehicle) was not a categorical aggravated felony theft offense under the law of the Ninth Circuit. NRS 205.273 may be satisfied by possessing, receiving, or transferring a stolen vehicle with either knowledge that it was stolen or reason to believe that it was stolen. However, the generic definition of an aggravated felony theft offense, according to the Ninth Circuit’s en banc decision in U.S. v. Corona-Sanchez, requires “the criminal intent to deprive the owner of rights and benefits of ownership, even if such deprivation is less than total or permanent.” The Board appropriately recognized that a conviction does not require that intent if it is based on what a reasonable person should have known, rather than what the defendant actually knew. Therefore, a conviction under NRS 205.273 does not categorically meet the theft definition.

The Board declined to decide whether NRS 205.273 is divisible into two separately enumerated crimes, possession with knowledge and possession with reason to believe. Since both alternatives are listed in the statute, it would seem to be divisible and thus susceptible to the modified categorical approach. I do not know much about Nevada law, though, so perhaps there is an argument against divisibility. It did not matter in this case because the record did not indicate whether the conviction was for knowledge or reason to believe.

The Board also explicitly reserved the question of whether receipt of stolen property with reason to believe it was stolen would meet the generic definition of a theft offense absent controlling circuit precedent. It noted that many jurisdictions, although not most, included receipt with reason to believe in theft statutes at the time Congress enacted the theft aggravated felony definition.

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