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Media Alerts - United States v. Ramirez-Alaniz -- Fourth Circuit
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February 24, 2016
  United States v. Ramirez-Alaniz -- Fourth Circuit
Foreign Nationals Held in U.S. Indefinitely Under Civil Commitment

Areas of Law: Immigration Law

Issue Presented: Whether an undocumented person can be held in civil commitment if a district court finds that release creates a substantial risk of bodily injury to another person or serious damage to property.

Brief Summary: Ramirez-Alaniz entered the United States without inspection. In January 2011, Ramirez-Alaniz was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment after pleading guilty to criminal charges against him. After serving his sentence he was deported to Mexico. Two weeks later, he was detained by Customs and Border Patrol ("CPB") agents in Arizona and charged with illegal reentry following deportation. While under CPB detention, Ramirez-Alaniz "exhibited poor institutional adjustment, sexually inappropriate behavior, and noncompliance with the administration of medication." Due to this behavior the district court ordered that Ramirez-Alaniz undergo a dangerousness evaluation under 18 U.S.C. §§ 4246 and 4248. Ramirez-Alaniz was thereafter transferred to Federal Medical Center ("FMC") Butner. Mental health evaluators at FMC Butner found Ramirez-Alaniz incapable of proceeding with his criminal case and that his competency would not be restored in the near future.

The district court then conducted a commitment hearing. A psychiatrist and a psychologist testified that Ramirez-Alaniz responded well to medication and would not be a risk to the community so long as he was medicated. They also testified that there would be no way to ensure continued medication if Ramirez-Alaniz were released. The district court ordered Ramirez-Alaniz committed under § 4246, "given his psychotic disorder and cognitive defects." The district court in Arizona, following the commitment hearing, dismissed the criminal charges against him. On appeal, Ramirez-Alaniz contends that § 4246 is not applicable to his case since, upon release, he would be deported to Mexico, and § 4246 applies only to persons and property in the United States.

According to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Ramirez-Alaniz' argument "overlooks the fact that if released, Ramirez-Alaniz would...be released into the United States" as there is not currently a criminal action against him nor an action by the Department of Justice to commence removal proceedings in immigration court. Therefore, because he would be released into the United States, the district court's finding that he would pose a risk to persons or property in the U.S. in violation of § 4246 will stand. The court did not reach the extraterritorial argument raised by Ramirez-Alaniz. Ramirez-Alaniz also argued that American taxpayers should not be forced to cover the expense for foreign nationals, but the Fourth Circuit dismissed the claim as pure "speculation and hyperbole."

To read the full opinion, click here.

Panel: Judges Niemeyer, Duncan, Agee.

Argument Date: 12/09/2015

Date of Issued Opinion: 01/26/2016

Docket Number: No. 15-6003

Decided: Affirmed by unpublished opinion.

Case Alert Author: Eric Suárez, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: Argued: Joseph Bart Gilbert, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant. Robert J. Dodson, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Thomas P. McNamara, Federal Public Defender, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant. Thomas G. Walker, United States Attorney, Jennifer P. May-Parker, Jennifer F. Dannels, Assistant United States Attorneys, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Author of Opinion: Judge Niemeyer

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 02/24/2016 11:05 AM     4th Circuit  

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