U.S. Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals

In re: S.F., 2006 to 2009

Ms. F. was a citizen of a West African country who sought asylum in the U.S. to avoid a forced marriage back home. She was French-educated and the daughter of a diplomat, but her father (the diplomat) wanted to make a marital match to promote his business interests. I submitted a record with supporting documents from my client and her family members.

At a hearing in the Arlington Immigration Court, I provided an expert witness from the Smithsonian Institution to explain the context of my client’s culture. Ms. F. also testified. The immigration judge found too many implausible features in the client’s account, and he denied her claim.

I took an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals. With my brief and an amicus brief from the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at the University of California School of Law (Hastings), we won the appeal. The BIA viewed the expert’s testimony as sufficient explanation for the concerns the judge had raised.

In an unusual action, the BIA reversed the immigration judge’s decision on the facts and his credibility findings, and ordered that Ms. F. receive asylum.


D.C. Superior Court

U.S. v. L.T, 2010

This case involved a U.S. Army veteran with combat experience in Iraq, charged with committing an armed carjacking (with a 15-year statutory minimum) and several street robberies in the District. A surveillance camera in a parking lot recorded the carjacking.

The crucial issues involved reaching a satisfactory plea agreement with the government and obtaining a sentence at the statutory minimum for a lesser charge. Ilocated and arranged for a psychiatrist with military experience to examine Mr. T. The doctor diagnosed both PTSD from concussions caused by armored duty (in tanks) in Iraq and untreated ADHD.

The government reviewed the report and reduced the charges to a single count of carjacking (carrying an 84-month mandatory minimum). Ibrought the psychiatric report and the client’s military record (obtained from a U.S. Army archive in St. Louis, MO) to the attention of the judge in a sentencing memorandum and at the hearing. Although thegovernment sought a sentence of 90 months, the judge imposed the statutory minimum sentence of 84 months.

 

U.S. v. D.W., 2009

I represented Mr. W, who originally faced felony assault charges with six co-defendants arising from a group assault by members of one extended family on two other adults in a housing complex in Southeast. The government reduced the cases of Mr. W and three others to misdemeanor assault.

The parties tried those cases over about 12 days from March to May 2011. The crucial factual issues concerned what events one adult victim and several child witnesses were able to observe during a chaotic scene, and then relate at trial. At trial the government abandoned its theory that my client held a victim while another co-defendant struck him with a golf club. The judge concluded merely that Mr. W had thrown a punch.

The judge acquitted my client on one count of assault, but convicted him on the other assault count, a misdemeanor. 

U.S. v. T. S., 2009

This case was tried twice before juries, the first time ending in a mis-trial (hung jury) and the second time ending in Ms. S’s conviction on a charge of possession with intent to distribute (PWID) heroin.

The case went to trial, because my client, a heroin addict, insisted that she did not know that two envelopes in her possession contained illegal narcotics. Somebody in India had mailed the envelopes to her family’s apartment in D.C., perhaps trying the recognized tactic of using an innocent family’s mailbox as a pickup site for illegal drugs.

The government’s witnesses were federal agents, mainly from the Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Another witness was the Customs and Border Protection agent from Kennedy airport (New York City) who had intercepted the envelopes and opened them when they arrived in the U.S. from India.

The main factual issue was the condition of the envelopes when an ICE agent took them from my client: whether my client had opened them or left them sealed. At the second trial, after the jury’s conviction on the single count of PWID, the judge sentenced my client to four months in jail, with the balance suspended.

U.S. v. C. E., 2013

The government charged C., a young, trans-gender female from the New York area who had recently moved to the District, with assault with a deadly weapon and other felonies. The charges arose from a domestic violence incident (involving the client’s friend and another person in a romantic triangle) in an apartment in Northwest D.C.

The crucial issue was how to reduce the client’s unusually high criminal history score, which was at least five points and possibly as high as seven, depending on scoring rules for out-of-state convictions.This high score resulted mostly from felony convictions in Florida that came out of a domestic dispute context.

I used the report of a clinical psychologist,who had examinedthe client, to successfully urge the judge to grant a downward departure under the Voluntary Sentencing Guidelines, on grounds of a mental health condition that reduced the client’s culpability.Under the downward departure, the client became eligible for a short-split sentence (a sentence of six months or less, and additional time that is suspended while the person is on probation).

The judge imposed a sentence of six months in jail, plus 12 months suspended, and probation for two years.The client had risked a sentence of seven years at a minimum had she gone to trial and lost. Given the extreme consequences of C’s high criminal history score, in this case negotiations with the prosecutor and attempting to get a downward departure from the judge at sentencing were the best options. 

U.S. v. D. H.,  2013

This case raised identification and witness credibility issues about my client, Ms. H, a young trans-gender female. The government charged her with placing a broken sawed-off shotgun on the lawn in front of a maintenance office of a housing complex in Southeast Washington, D.C. The sole fact witness for the government was a maintenance worker who testified he had seen someone place the shotgun there. I argued that the person he had seen was not Ms. H and the jury found her not guilty.