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Media Alerts - Mondragón v. Holder - Fourth Circuit
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March 6, 2013
  Mondragón v. Holder - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Undocumented Immigrant Faces Deportation for Crime that Did Not Bring Such Consequence When He Was Convicted

Area of Law: Immigration

Issues Presented: Whether a retroactive change in the definition of a crime that disqualifies undocumented immigrants from relief from removal violates due process. Whether the immigrant seeking that relief may introduce evidence of the conduct underlying a conviction to prove the crime is not a disqualifying one.

Brief Summary: Manuel Mondragón applied for a discretionary relief to avoid removal from the United States after having entered the country illegally. An immigration judge found that he was disqualified from this relief because of a prior conviction for assault and battery. At the time Mondragón pleaded guilty, his conviction would not have disqualified him from relief. However, a subsequent legislative change in the definition of disqualifying crimes rendered him ineligible. when applied retroactively The Fourth Circuit rejected his due process challenge to the retroactive application of the definition change. The court also affirmed the use of the modified categorical approach in determining whether the conviction at issue met the definition of a disqualifying crime. Under this approach, Mondragón was prohibited from introducing evidence of the conduct underlying his crime.

Extended Summary: After entering the country illegally, Manuel Mondragón sought discretionary relief from removal from the United States. This type of relief is not available to those convicted of an "aggravated felony." In 1996, Mondragón pled guilty to assault and battery and was given a suspended sentence of one year. At the time of his plea, the definition of "aggravated felony" for immigration purposes was a crime of violence for which the term of imprisonment was at least five years. Later in 1996, Congress amended this definition to include crimes of violence for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year, and made this definition change apply retroactively. At the removal hearing, an immigration judge, applying the amended definition, found that Mondragón was ineligible for discretionary relief because he had not met the burden of proving his conviction was not for a crime of violence. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) affirmed this decision. In his petitions to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Mondragón contested the constitutionality of the retroactive application of the definition change. He also argued that he should be permitted to prove that his crime was not one of violence through the introduction of an affidavit describing the conduct that gave rise to his charge.

The Fourth Circuit first acknowledged that while Mondragón had a "strong claim to fairness" on the retroactivity issue, Congress may alter rights retroactively without violating the due process clause, as long as it has a rational basis for doing so. The court then quickly dismissed Mondragón's argument that the retroactive definition change violated his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. The court said it could not consider the issue so many years after conviction, citing practical and administrative concerns but also emphasizing the importance of the finality of judgments.

The court next addressed the manner in which Mondragón might meet his burden of demonstrating that his conviction was not for a crime of violence. The BIA had applied the "modified categorical" approach to analyzing whether the conviction was for a disqualifying crime. Under this approach, Mondragón was allowed to present evidence resolving the ambiguity in the conviction itself, but could not present evidence as to the conduct underlying the charge, as he had wished. Congress had rested disqualification on the fact of conviction, as opposed to the nature of the criminal act, and the court found that this demanded the use of a modified categorical approach. The evidence properly before the BIA, the court determined, had not resolved the ambiguity in the conviction; his charge might still be interpreted to fall under the category of a crime of violence, and so Mondragón had not met his burden of proof. Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit concluded, the BIA had correctly denied his petitions for review.

To read the full opinion, please visit http://pacer.ca4.uscourts.gov/opinion.pdf/112133.P.pdf

Panel: Judges Niemeyer, King, and Agee

Argument: 10/23/12

Date of Issued Opinion: 01/31/13

Docket Number: 11-2133/12-1070

Decided: Petitions denied

Case Alert Author: Claire Caplan

Counsel: ARGUED: Nancy Aileen Noonan, ARENT FOX, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner. Woei-Tyng Daniel Shieh, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Respondent. ON BRIEF: Ralph A. Taylor, Jr., Peter V. B. Unger, Jennifer S. Allen, Eli M. Sheets, ARENT FOX, LLP, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner. Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division, Carl H. McIntyre, Jr., Assistant Director, Office of Immigration Litigation, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Washington, D.C., for Respondent

Author of Opinion: Niemeyer, J

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 03/06/2013 01:25 PM     4th Circuit  

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