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June 2015

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Favorable Decision for Pro Bono Client in Deportation Case

North America - United States

The U.S. Supreme Court was asked to decide whether a lawful permanent resident can be deported for possession of drug paraphernalia in the absence of any proof that the paraphernalia is related to a substance listed in the Federal Controlled Substance Act. In 2010, Moones Mellouli was charged and convicted of possessing paraphernalia in the form of a sock. He was deported without the federal government having to show that the sock contained a controlled substance on either the state or federal controlled substance schedules.

The case was argued before the Supreme Court by Jon Laramore, former partner, on Jan. 14, 2015. Business litigation attorneys Daniel Pulliam, associate, and Lucetta Pope, counsel, co-led a cross-office team of more than 30 professionals on the case. Mellouli was represented in partnership between our firm and the Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota. The partnership between the firm and the Center has been led and overseen by Dianne Heins, the firm’s pro bono counsel and director of pro bono and community service.

Accepting Mellouli’s argument, the court ruled 7-2 on June 1, 2015 that a legal permanent resident may not be deported for a drug conviction unless that conviction necessarily involves a drug covered by the federal Controlled Substances Act, which Mellouli’s conviction did not. The court rejected the Justice Department’s broad reading of the federal deportation statute, holding that it stretched the statute’s text “to the breaking point” and led to consequences Congress could not have intended. The court’s decision is likely to preclude deportation of thousands of legal residents with low-level drug convictions.

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