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Deportation not inevitable after a drug paraphernalia conviction

When the War on Drugs was popular, Congress decided to make the consequences of drug convictions especially harsh for immigrants. In addition to any criminal sentence, federal law now considers almost any drug conviction to be grounds for deporting any immigrant -- even green-card holders.

According to that drug-deportation statute, 8 U.S.C. §1227(a)(2)(B)(i), an immigrant can be deported upon being convicted of violating any state, federal or foreign law "relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of title 21)." Convictions for conspiracy or attempt related to such charges are also covered. The only drug conviction specifically exempted from this rule is a first-time conviction for possession of marijuana for personal use.

That seems pretty straightforward: Get convicted of a drug crime, get deported. It gets more complicated, of course.

That phrase, "as defined in section 802 of title 21," turns out to refer to the "definitions" section of an extremely complex body of federal law -- controlled substances. Since states often define their drug offenses differently than the federal government does, using the "definitions" section of a federal law has led to confusion when state laws are involved. Ultimately, it's far too complex to cover in a blog post.

College professor deported for concealing 3 Adderall tablets in a sock

There's been a lot of confusion, apparently, even in the courts. The matter recently came to a head when a math professor at a major university was caught with three orange pills in his sock. The professor, a lawful permanent resident, pled guilty to a state misdemeanor charge of possessing drug paraphernalia. (The paraphernalia charge was probably the result of a plea bargain.)

The pills turned out to be Adderall, which is ubiquitous on college campuses, but the man apparently pled guilty before that was established. For legal purposes, his guilty plea involved possessing paraphernalia (the sock), rather than the suspicious pills.

Should the drug paraphernalia conviction count as a violation o a state law "relating to a controlled substance (as defined in Section 802 of title 21)"?

Does federal law really require a highly-educated, permanent resident of the U.S. to be deported over a sock?

No. In a 7-to-2 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court just ruled that the confusion over the issue has simply been too great. When that happens, the criminal defendant gets the benefit of the doubt.

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