A drunk driving accident is not a “crime of violence” that allows the government to deport a permanent resident, the Supreme Court ruled today, the Associated Press reports. It was the first of three cases this term involving the rights of immigrants. In an 11-page opinion by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who is being treated for thyroid cancer, the court ruled unanimously in favor of Josue Leocal, a Haitian man fighting deportation in Florida after pleading guilty to a drunk driving charge.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta said the offense was a “crime of violence” under the law because he had caused injury to others. The Supreme Court disagreed. It said the plain meaning of the statute suggests that the felony offense must require intent in causing harm – not mere negligence as in Leocal’s case – before immigrants are subject to deportation. “Drunk driving is a nationwide problem, as evidenced by the efforts of legislatures to prohibit such conduct and impose appropriate remedies,” Rehnquist said. “But this fact does not warrant our shoehorning it into statutory sections where it does not fit.” Leocal, 47, was sentenced to more than two years in prison on the charge.