Crime and punishment: a beloved book and popular topic in the American criminal justice system. There are notions of proportionality that are supposed to accompany every crime and sentences vary accordingly. Unless, of course, you are a non-citizen.
Jerry Lemaine, a legal permanent resident of New York (originally from Haiti) was found with a marijuana cigarette in early 2007 and immediately pled guilty to the minor infraction. Although he had a similar incident as a teenager, the nursing student had an otherwise spotless record.
The normal sentence for such a small amount of drug possession is a fine and maybe some community service. Lemaine, however, was flown in shackles to a Texas prison where he would spend three years behind bars, and ten months in solitary confinement.
Lemaine is currently fighting the deportation process and he is not alone. What happened in Lemaine’s case and many other non-citizens is an interesting interpretation of the United State’s laws regarding immigrants and drug offenses. More specifically, the government maintains that for deportation purposes, “two convictions for drug possession add up to the equivalent of drug trafficking, an “aggravated felony” that requires expulsion and prohibits immigration courts from granting exceptions based on individual life circumstances.” You may want to read the gravity of that last sentence again. Any two drug offenses can equate to drug trafficking if you are not a citizen of the United States.
An ancillary issue of interest in this case is the fact that the case can be sent anywhere, rather than the much more common approach of handling the case in the court where the crime occurred.
A similar case is before the Supreme Court as we speak dealing with whether minor drug offenses should lead to deportation. Although I agree with the notion that living in the United States is a privilege and not a right, I do not think that minor drug offenses should permit deportation. More commonly offenses such as fraud in the green card application process, crimes of violence, and those crimes carrying a punishment of 5 years or more have led to deportation. Not minor infractions. Further, in addition to addressing the issue of removal, something must be done about the treatment of Lemaine. Sending an offender to another state to sit in jail for 3 years for possession of a marijuana cigarette is absolutely ludicrous and there would be a much greater outrage if this was a U.S. citizen.