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Martinez v. Sessions

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

June 27, 2018

Juan Lemus Martinez, Petitioner,
v.
Jefferson B. Sessions, III, Attorney General of the United States, Respondent.

          Submitted: November 14, 2017

          Petition for Review of an Order of the Board of Immigration Appeals.

          Before COLLOTON and GRUENDER, Circuit Judges, and HOLMES, [1] District Judge.

          COLLOTON CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Juan Lemus Martinez, a citizen of Mexico, petitions for review of a decision that he is removable from the United States. The Board of Immigration Appeals concluded that Lemus Martinez's prior conviction in Missouri for possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver made him removable. We agree with the Board and therefore deny the petition.

         I.

         Lemus Martinez was admitted to the United States on a visa in 2004 and became a lawful permanent resident in 2006. In March 2015, he pleaded guilty in Missouri state court to possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver, in violation of Mo. Rev. Stat. § 195.211.

         The government commenced removal proceedings against Lemus Martinez on two grounds-namely, that he was convicted of a controlled substance offense and an aggravated felony. First, under 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(B)(i), an alien is subject to removal if he has been convicted of violating "any law or regulation of a State . . . relating to a controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of Title 21)." Second, according to § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), an alien is removable if he has been convicted of an "aggravated felony," which includes "illicit trafficking in a controlled substance (as defined in section 802 of Title 21)." 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(B). Section 802 defines "controlled substance" as "a drug or other substance, or immediate precursor, included in schedule I, II, III, IV, or V of [21 U.S.C. § 812]." 21 U.S.C. § 802(6).

         To determine whether a state drug conviction is grounds for removal, the adjudicator is required to apply the so-called "categorical approach." That approach calls for a comparison of the elements of the state offense with removable offenses defined by federal law. Mellouli v. Lynch, 135 S.Ct. 1980, 1986 (2015). The adjudicator must assume that the state conviction rested upon nothing more than the least of the acts criminalized by the state statute and then determine whether that state statute fits within the removable offense identified by federal law. Id.; Moncrieffe v. Holder, 569 U.S. 184, 190-91 (2013).

         Where a state statute encompasses the same conduct or less conduct than the federal offense, a conviction under the state statute will be a categorical match. Descamps v. United States, 570 U.S. 254, 261 (2013). But where a state statute criminalizes more conduct than the removable offense, it is overbroad and does not categorically make the offender removable. In that case, however, if a statute includes multiple, alternative elements that create several different crimes, the statute is considered "divisible." The adjudicator may then seek to determine, based on a limited class of judicial records, the crime of which the alien was convicted. Id. at 264; Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2249 (2016). After applying this modified categorical approach, if the elements of the offense of conviction fit within the removable offense, the alien is removable.

         In this case, an immigration judge concluded that Lemus Martinez's state conviction rendered him removable. The Board of Immigration Appeals dismissed Lemus Martinez's administrative appeal. The Board reasoned that the Missouri statute under which Lemus Martinez was convicted was overbroad but divisible. Based on the record of conviction, the Board concluded that Lemus Martinez was convicted of both a controlled substance offense and an aggravated felony. Lemus Martinez disputes that conclusion, and we review the Board's legal determination de novo.

         At the time of Lemus Martinez's offense, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 195.211.1 made it a crime to "possess with intent to . . . deliver . . . a controlled substance." A separate section, § 191.010(5), defined "controlled substance" with reference to five drug schedules that were set forth in § 195.017. Not all of the controlled substances listed in the Missouri drug schedules, however, appear in the federal schedules. Missouri forbids the possession with intent to deliver salvia divinorum, id. § 195.017.2(4)(jj), and ephedrine, id. § 195.017.8(6); the federal statute does not. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 802(6), 812. The two removable offenses at issue here incorporate the federal drug statute. The controlled substance offense is a violation of state law relating to a controlled substance "as defined in Section 802 of Title 21." Similarly, the aggravated felony is illicit trafficking in a controlled substance "as defined in Section 802 of Title 21."

         Because § 195.211 encompasses drugs that are not included in a federal schedule, the state offense sweeps more broadly than the two removable offenses. The Board concluded, however, that the state offense is divisible, because the identity of the controlled substance is an element of the crime. Lemus Martinez was convicted of possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine, a drug that is listed on the federal schedules, so the Board determined that he was convicted of a removable offense. Lemus Martinez counters that the state offense-including trafficking in salvia and ephedrine-is indivisible, because the different controlled substances represent different ways or means of committing a single offense. On that view, the Missouri crime is broader than the removable offenses defined by federal law.

         To resolve this dispute over means versus elements, we look first to state law. After considering the statutory text, the approved jury instructions, and state court decisions, we conclude ...


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