Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Sock It To Me

Because of a dirty sock, the United States Supreme Court has just made it more difficult to deport people for committing drug crimes.

In a 7-2 ruling in Mellouli v. Lynch, the court said foreigners in the U.S. can be deported only for violating state drug offenses that are also federal drug crimes.

States prosecute drug crimes that are not federal drug violations – peyote in California and jimson weed in Kansas, for instance – so this ruling will be felt nationwide.

It will surely prevent immigration officials from ordering some deportations. The U.S. deports 35,000 people a year for drug crimes.

In the underlying case a legal alien from Tunisia was charged after police found four amphetamine pills, called Adderall – for which he had no prescription – stuffed in his sock. Because the sock held the illegal drugs it was defined as “paraphernalia” under Kansas criminal law.

For the record this was the second arrest of the alien for driving under the influence in the span of a year, and he tried to hide the drugs in his sock while being booked into jail for DUI.

In a plea deal Moones Mellouli, who earned U.S. university degrees and taught college in Missouri, pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor of possessing “drug paraphernalia.” Afterwards immigration officials cited the conviction in deporting him, and the Board of Immigration Appeals upheld it, as did a federal appellate court. When it got to the D.C. Supremes, however, justices said let’s not step so fast – bring that Tunisian dude back here, shoeless, sockless or otherwise.

Issued June 1, the Supreme Court opinion written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes fun of Kansas drug laws for loosely defining anything holding illegal drugs as “drug paraphernalia,” even a dirty sock. Really; had he toted the pills in a Gucci bag, it would have been drug “paraphernalia” – but obviously with more cachet and less odor.

Essentially the Court said possession of a sock isn’t illegal, as Justice Ginsburg wrote with a Macy’s marketer’s flare: federal law doesn’t “define drug paraphernalia to include ready-to-wear items like socks . . . .” (I predict psychedelic designer socks will now become the “must-have” summer fashion item for all alien druggies.)

We should have gotten a hint that the pivotal issue in the case was the man’s sock because in oral arguments in January justices spent much time mashing it heel-and-toe, noting that the alien was convicted of possessing a “sock,” and complaining the plea deal failed to mention the illegal drugs involved in the arrest.

In fact, one justice suggested that the speed drug in the sock is commonly found on university campuses. “He had four pills of Adderall, which if you go to half the colleges in America and just randomly pick somebody,” said Justice Elena Kagan, former dean of Harvard Law School, you’d find Adderall.

(Private note to foreign students currently studying law at Harvard: Never wear shoes without socks.)

If anybody is to blame for allowing a hole big enough for a bad Supreme Court precedent to get a toehold, then it’s the knucklehead Kansas prosecutor, who didn’t think to mention Adderall in the plea bargain record. Adderall by the way is listed in federal drug offenses by the DEA, and grounds for deportation.

As Justice Ginsburg opined: “In admitting only paraphernalia possession, Mellouli avoided any identification in the record of conviction of the federally controlled substance (Adderall) his sock contained.” In other words his tricksy immigration attorney outwitted the DA.
R.D. Byron-Smith's books, including his latest novel American Jihadist, are available at Amazon and all online booksellers.

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