Category Archives: Aggravated Felony

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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Matter of Jose Juan Chavez-Alvarez

The Board held that an adjustment of status by a respondent who entered the U.S. without inspection was an “admission” and the respondent therefore was deportable for conviction of an aggravated felony “after admission.” It disagreed with and distinguished the precedent on 212(h) eligibility, where circuit courts have held an aggravated felony does not disqualify a permanent resident unless he or she was admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident (not where he or she adjusted to permanent resident status). The Board found it would be absurd to interpret the statute to entirely exempt immigrants who adjusted status from the grounds of deportability, which only apply to persons in and admitted to the U.S.

The Board further found that a sentence enhancement specified in the Manual for Courts-Martial that must be pleaded and proved beyond a reasonable doubt is an “element” that may be examined under the categorical analysis for immigration purposes.

In this case, the Board held a sodomy sentence enhancement for sodomy committed “by force and without the consent of the other person” categorically satisfies the crime of violence aggravated felony definition (if the sentence is to one year or more). It found the conviction satisfied both subsection (a) and subsection (b) of 18 U.S.C. 16. It found it satisfied subsection (a) because it held the conviction had as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another. It also found the offense satisfied subsection (b) because sodomy by force, which requires physical force and lack of the victim’s consent for a conviction, by its nature involves a substantial risk that the perpetrator will resort to intentional physical force in the course of committing the crime.

Interestingly, in a portion of the decision not digested by the Board at the beginning of the case, the Board rejected without much analysis the respondent’s argument that he did not receive a sentence to one year or more for any single one of his three sodomy convictions. Apparently, he received a sentence to 18 months on the three counts and it was not clear whether this was a single concurrent sentence (i.e., 18 months on each conviction with the period of imprisonment to run at the same time) or three consecutive sentences (say, three sentences to 6 months each). The Board characterized the sentence as a “general sentence” and cited a 66 year-old Board opinion to find it satisfied the crime of violence aggravated felony definition’s requirement of a sentence to one year or more. Due to the paucity of the Board’s analysis, though, it is hard to know whether the respondent’s argument had any merit. This is unfortunate in a published decision.

Finally, the Board rejected respondent’s claim to eligibility for a “stand alone” 212(h) waiver. It held 212(h) is not available unless the applicant is an arriving alien seeking to waive a charge of inadmissibility or an applicant to adjust (or readjust) status to permanent residence. See Matter of Rivas, 26 I&N Dec. 130,
132, 134 (BIA 2013).

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