Biased lawmakers enacting knee-jerk legislation have created countless problems in our system of justice, especially with mandates that handcuff judges’ ability to let the punishment fit the crime. The Supreme Court on Monday took a welcome step toward restoring some sanity to the system.
The court ruled that judges should have — and do have — the discretion to decide if a person must be deported after committing a minor crime.
The ruling involves a case from a state where the politicians are even more gung ho in their get-tough-on-crime approach, no matter how senseless. Still, Ohio lawmakers are like their peers elsewhere: They like to throw the book at minor offenders. It is, after all, what voters want. So Monday’s ruling at least will keep state lawmakers here from their own bad judgment.
The ruling comes in the case of a Texas man, Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, who was ordered deported after he couldn’t produce a prescription for one tablet of Xanax, a controlled anxiety drug. He had a previous conviction for having less than 2 ounces of marijuana. The federal government began deportation proceedings, although the trial judge made no ruling regarding his immigration status.
Carachuri-Rosendo has been a legal U.S. resident since age 5; his wife and four children all are U.S. citizens.
With two convictions to minor offenses Carachuri-Rosendo fits the simplistic definition of a repeat offender. But it’s clear that exile to a country that essentially is foreign to him and the hardships it would cause for his entire family is a bit extreme for a couple of ounces of pot and a single unprescribed pill. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision, agreed.
The ruling does not prevent such deportations, but it asserts that trial and immigration judges must have the discretion to determine if a person’s offenses warrant their eviction from this country. It places such decisions where it belongs, in the hands of a judge who can review the evidence and circumstances and render a just decision. Forcing the courts’ hands with legislation that treats all cases equally regardless of the details creates as many problems as its authors presume to solve.
Such legislation usually is enacted to address drug traffickers and other major criminals. Unfortunately, the one-size-fits-all approach never works; these provisions, many of them part of the 1996 immigration reform law, have led to many lifelong U.S. citizens being sent to countries that are foreign to them simply because of a DUI in adulthood, combined with a small shoplifting charge in their youth, makes them repeat offenders. Some deportees are decorated veterans who have established themselves as valuable citizens, except for a couple of misdemeanor infractions.
Our nation, and the system of laws that govern it, are based on strong principles. Among these are the idea that all people deserve to be treated equally and fairly, and that justice knows no nationality.
Monday’s high court ruling enables trial and immigration judges to impose punishment that fits the level of the crime and is not overly punitive. In so doing, it helps bring justice back into the courtroom for thousands of immigrants.