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Oyebanji v. Gonzales

August 11, 2005

LARRY OLOLADE OYEBANJI, APPELLANT
v.
*ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; MR. CATHEL; THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY
*(AMENDED PURSUANT TO RULE 43(C), FED. R. APP. PRO.)



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY District Court Judge: Honorable Jerome B. Simandle (D.C. No. 01-cv-02126).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alito, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued: June 18, 2004

Before: ALITO, SMITH, and WALLACE,*fn1 Circuit Judges

OPINION OF THE COURT

Larry Ololade Oyebanji appeals from the District Court's order denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Oyebanji challenges a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") holding that his conviction for vehicular homicide under New Jersey law was a "crime of violence" as defined by 18 U.S.C. § 16 and was thus a ground for removal. In light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Leocal v. Ashcroft, 125 S.Ct. 377 (2004), we conclude that we must reverse the decision of the District Court, which was issued before Leocal was handed down.

I.

Oyebanji is a citizen of Nigeria and has been a lawful permanent resident of the United States since 1997. A lawful permanent resident is subject to removal if he or she commits an "aggravated felony." See 8 U.S.C. § 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii). Aggravated felonies include any offense that is punishable by at least one year of imprisonment and that is "a crime of violence" as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 16 (and is not a "purely political" offense). 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(43)(F).

In February 1998, Oyebanji was arrested in East Orange, New Jersey, after causing a car accident that killed another person. Oyebanji pled guilty to vehicular homicide, in violation of N.J. STAT. ANN. § 2C:11-5(b)(1), driving under the influence of an intoxicating drug ("DUI"), in violation of N.J. STAT. ANN. § 39:4-50, and reckless driving, in violation of N.J. STAT. ANN. § 39:4-96. The New Jersey state court sentenced Oyebanji to six years' imprisonment.

In June 2000, an Immigration Judge ("IJ") held that Oyebanji's conviction for vehicular homicide was an "aggravated felony" under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(43)(F), because it was a felony for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year and a crime of violence as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 16(b).*fn2 The IJ also found that Oyebanji was ineligible for any form of relief from removal and therefore ordered that he be removed to Nigeria. The BIA affirmed the IJ's decision and dismissed Oyebanji's appeal.

Oyebanji filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, seeking relief from the order of removal. The District Court denied Oyebanji's petition because it found that his offense was a crime of violence. Oyebanji then took the appeal that is now before us.

After hearing oral argument, we held this appeal c.a.v. because the Supreme Court had granted certiorari in Leocal, a case addressing a similar issue. Following the Supreme Court's decision in that case, we invited the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing its application to the case at hand.

II.

Where the underlying facts of a habeas petition are undisputed, we exercise plenary review over a district court's decision. See Sierra v. Romaine, 347 F.3d 559, 564 (3d Cir. 2003), vacated on other grounds, 125 S.Ct. 962 (2005).*fn3 Because the BIA is not charged with administering 18 U.S.C. § 16 and has no special expertise regarding the interpretation of that criminal statute, we do not defer to the BIA's interpretation of that provision. See Francis v. Reno, 269 F.3d 162, 168 (3d Cir. 2001). To determine if a person was convicted of a crime of violence within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. ยง 16, we use the "categorical" approach. In a case where, as here, the petitioner pled guilty, we look only ...


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