Pugin v. Garland (U.S. Supreme Court, June 2023)

The Federal Docket

August 17, 2023

Federal immigration law authorizes the deportation of any non-citizen who, after being admitted into the United States, is convicted of an “aggravated felony.” In 1996, Congress expanded the definition of “aggravated felony” to include, among other things, any local, state, or federal offense “relating to obstruction of justice.”

The Supreme Court granted cert to resolve a conflict in how this language was being interpreted in the Ninth and Fourth Circuits. The Ninth Circuit had held, in the case of Fernando Cordero-Garcia, that Cordero-Garcia’s California state conviction for dissuading a witness from reporting a crime did not constitute an aggravated felony because it authorized conviction even where no investigation or proceeding had begun. On the other hand, the Fourth Circuit had upheld a removal order against Jean Francois Pugin, who had been convicted of the Virginia state offense of being an accessory after the fact to a felony.

Applying a categorical approach, a 6-3 majority of the Supreme Court agreed with the Fourth Circuit, holding that offenses may relate to obstruction of justice for purposes of defining an “aggravated felony” even where an investigation or proceeding is not currently pending, including where one is “not even on the verge of commencement.”

In a footnote explaining the Court’s refusal to impose a limitation of reasonable foreseeability, the Court seemed to imply that the federal offense of misprision of felony is not an aggravated felony because the critical inquiry is whether the offense requires an intent to interfere with the legal process.

Opinion by Kavanaugh, joined by Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Barrett, and Jackson
Concurring opinion filed by Jackson
Dissenting opinion filed by Sotomayor, joined by Gorsuch, and joined in part by Kagan

Click here to read the opinion

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

Scroll to Top