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Supreme Court strikes down vague law applied to legal residents

Now that the Supreme Court of the United States has overturned an unconstitutionally vague law, legal residents in Florida may have greater access to due process when convicted of crimes. The law in question required the automatic deportation of legal residents found guilty of “crimes of violence.”

The case represented the plight of a Filipino native who had been a lawful permanent resident since 1992. On two occasions in 2007 and 2009, he entered no-contest pleas on charges for residential burglary. Citing these convictions, an immigration judge ordered his removal from the country. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, the burglaries represented aggravated felonies that qualified as “crimes of violence.”

The lawyer for the defendant argued that the law was too vague and the man had no reasonable way to know that his behavior would result in deportation. The lawyer said that the vaguely worded law imposed no accountability on immigration officials who could interpret the law as they pleased. Prior applications of the vague law had resulted in deportations of military veterans who committed crimes and struggled with addiction. Some of the Supreme Court Justices particularly found fault with the existing law’s inability to allow consideration of special circumstances.

Although the ruling only applies to legal residents, it affirms the legal system’s commitment to due process for individuals. When a person enters immigration detention, a lawyer may be able to take action to fight deportation. A lawyer might investigate options for defending the person from removal so that their client may gain a greater ability to navigate the procedural complexities of the immigration courts. After assembling documentation to illustrate someone’s eligibility to stay in the country, a lawyer may be able to communicate it clearly in court.