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Media Alerts - Carlton Baptiste v. Attorney General United States of America - Third Circuit
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November 18, 2016
  Carlton Baptiste v. Attorney General United States of America - Third Circuit
Headline: 18 U.S.C. §16(b) is void as unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment due to its failure to clearly define "crime of violence"

Area of Law: Due Process Clause of Fifth Amendment, Statutory Interpretation

Issue(s) Presented: Does the definition of a "crime of violence" provided in 18 U.S.C. §16(b) render the statute void for vagueness under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment?

Brief Summary: The Third Circuit reviewed petitioner Carlton Baptiste's order to be removed as an alien issued by the Board of Immigration Appeals due to a conviction defined as a "crime of violence" and at least two convictions for crimes involving moral turpitude, or an extreme indifference to the value of human life. Baptiste, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, was convicted in 2009 for an aggravated felony, which is defined as a "crime of violence" pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §16(b). According to federal statute, aliens who are convicted of aggravated felonies after admission to the United States are removable.
Mirroring a recent decision by the Supreme Court which held that the definition of "violent felony" was unconstitutionally vague, the Third Circuit similarly held in the case at bar that the definition of a "crime of violence" in 18 U.S.C. §16(b) was unconstitutionally vague under the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment. Using the categorical approach of first defining "crime of violence" and then comparing the definition to the conviction statute of an aggravated felony, the Third Circuit did not find the definitions of "ordinary case" or "substantial risk" required to establish a crime of violence under §16(b) to be clear and give "fair notice of the conduct it punishes." Therefore, the Third Circuit found §16(b) to be subject to arbitrary enforcement and rendered it void.
However, the Third Circuit affirmed that Baptiste was still subject to removal due to his multiple convictions involving crimes of moral turpitude.

Extended Summary: Carlton Baptiste, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, sought review of a decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals ordering his removal as an alien due to his convictions of an aggravated felony and at least two convictions involving moral turpitude. In 2009, Baptiste was convicted of second-degree aggravated assault pursuant to New Jersey law. The Department of Homeland Security began removal proceedings against Baptiste in 2013 due to the classification of his 2009 conviction as a "crime of violence" pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §16 and therefore, was convicted of an aggravated felony pursuant to 8 U.S.C. §1227(a)(2)(A)(ii).
According to federal law, an alien who is convicted of an aggravated felony after admission to the United States is removable. 18 U.S.C. §16 defines an aggravated felony as a "crime of violence" imposing a prison sentence of at least one year. The Third Circuit used the categorical approach to determine if Baptiste's 2009 conviction was indeed an aggravated felony. To employ the categorical approach, the Third Circuit first examined the definition of a "crime of violence" and then compared that definition to the statute of conviction to determine if "aggravated felony" as defined in the statute of conviction was categorically a crime of violence.
The Third Circuit noted that 18 U.S.C. §16(b) defines a "crime of violence" as a "felony and 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." Further, the categorical approach required the Third Circuit to apply the definition of a crime of violence to the statute of conviction, which stated that an aggravated assault occurs if the perpetrator "attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such injury purposely or knowingly or under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life recklessly causes such injury." Therefore, the Third Circuit inquired whether recklessly causing serious bodily injury to another was categorically a crime of violence under §16(b).
The Third Circuit adopted the "ordinary case inquiry" to determine if a crime presents a "substantial risk" of the use of force, thus categorizing it as a crime of violence under §16(b). To define the "ordinary case" of reckless second-degree assault, the Third Circuit evaluated the conduct that is usually or normally used in the commission of the crime. However, the Third Circuit concluded that a variety of conduct can usually or normally be employed to commit reckless second-degree assault, noting specifically conduct that (1) "constitutes an intentional use of force;" (2) "presents a substantial risk of the intentional use of force; and" (3) presents no risk of the intentional use of force."
The Third Circuit contended that only judicial experience and "common sense" led it to the definition of the "ordinary case" of reckless second-degree assault to be conduct that "presents a substantial risk of the intentional use of force" and thus, categorically a crime of violence under §16(b). Because this reasoning invited arbitrary evaluation of the "ordinary case" of the commission of the crime, the Third Circuit determined that the definition of "ordinary case" was vague. Also, the Third Circuit noted that §16(b) provided no example offenses of a crime of violence and thus, failed to provide any guidance to the courts. Because the "ordinary case" and "substantial risk" analysis required by §16(b) were unconstitutionally vague, as it did not provide "fair notice of the conduct it punishes" required by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Third Circuit invalidated the statute. Therefore, the invalidation of §16(b) rendered Baptiste's 2009 conviction of an aggravated felony void, as it could not be categorically defined as a crime of violence.
Regardless, the Third Circuit found that Baptiste was still removable as he was convicted of at least two crimes, his 2009 conviction and a conviction in 1978 for assault and battery, involving moral turpitude. Ultimately, the Third Circuit remanded Baptiste's petition to the Board of Immigration Appeals to determine if he was eligible for relief from removal due to his 2009 conviction no longer being categorized as an aggravated felony.

The full opinion can be found at http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/144476p.pdf

Panel: Greenaway, Jr., Scirica, and Rendell, Circuit Judges

Argument Date: April 5, 2016

Date of Issued Opinion: November 8, 2016

Docket Number: No. 14-4476

Decided: Granted in part, denied in part, remanded in part

Case Alert Author: Katherine A. Osevala

Counsel: Michael L. Foreman and Penelope A. Scudder, counsel for Petitioner; Jennifer J. Keeney, Jesse M. Bless, Anthony C. Payne and Colette J. Winston, counsel for Respondent.

Author of Opinion: Circuit Judge Greenaway, Jr.

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Prof. Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 11/18/2016 01:15 PM     3rd Circuit  

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