Under the Immigration and Naturalization Act, a non-citizen convicted of an "aggravated felony" is not only deportable, but also ineligible for "discretionary relief" -- in other words, no special consideration.
Among the aggravated felonies covered by the INA is "illicit trafficking in a controlled substance."
However, a conviction under state law "constitutes a felony punishable under" the Controlled Substances Act only if it proscribes conduct punishable as a felony under that federal law.
Adrian Moncrieffe, a legal Jamaican immigrant, was found by police in Georgia to have 1.3 grams of marijuana in his car and pleaded guilty under state law to possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. The U.S. government sought to deport him.
The Board of Immigration Review and a federal appeals court ruled against his request to stay in the country.
However, Moncrieffe's conduct was not necessarily a felony under federal law, which requires that he receive some remuneration for the drug and more than a small amount of marijuana -- not the 1.3 grams that brought the Georgia felony.
Writing for the court majority, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said if a non-citizen's state conviction for a marijuana distribution offense "fails to establish that the offense involved either remuneration or more than a small amount of marijuana, it is not an aggravated [federal] felony under the INA."
The ruling reverses the lower court and the board and sends the case back for a new hearing to conform with the opinion.