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Is a sock just a sock? Or could it be illegal drug paraphernalia?

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2015 | Drug Charges

Believe it or not, the question of whether a sock could be legally considered drug paraphernalia recently came before the U.S. Supreme Court. Why? When three unidentified pills were discovered in a college professor’s sock, he pled guilty to a misdemeanor and was deported.

The professor, originally from Tunisia, came to the U.S. about a decade ago on a student visa. After graduating from college with honors, he went on to earn two Master’s degrees — one in economics and another in applied mathematics. After working for a while, he entered the world of academia and worked his way up to a full professorship in mathematics at a major university. In 2011, he became a lawful permanent resident and got engaged to marry a U.S. citizen.

Then he got pulled over, and a related search turned up the sock with three pills. Presumably after a plea bargain, he pled guilty to a state-level misdemeanor, possession of drug paraphernalia. He was given a suspended sentence of just over a year in jail in exchange for a year’s probation, which he completed successfully.

Then he was deported.

Is possessing a sock with three unidentified pills inside a deportable offense?

People who are deported typically can’t legally re-enter the U.S., and the professor wanted to return to the life he had built. He appealed his deportation all the way to the Supreme Court.

The government felt it had a strong case. The pills, as it turned out, were Adderall, a prescription stimulant. Possession of Adderall without a prescription does qualify as a deportable offense under U.S. law, which reserves the right to deport any immigrant — even a green-card holder — convicted of any crime “relating to a controlled substance” as defined by federal law. State convictions, including misdemeanors, can trigger deportation under this provision as long as the offense would meet the federal definition provided.

A conviction for possessing three Adderall pills probably would be a deportable offense, and immigration authorities thought the professor should therefore be deported.

Not so fast, wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on behalf of the high court, which reversed the professor’s deportation in a 7-to-2 vote.

The deportation law, she pointed out, relies on the actual conviction, not the charge he pled out of. His actual conviction was for possession of drug paraphernalia, not Adderall. And under the federal definitions, a sock is just a sock.


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