Is a Sock Drug Paraphernalia (And How Is that Relevant to Immigration)?

by Joseph McKeown

In 2010, Moones Mellouli, a Tunisian national and US lawful permanent resident with two master's degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and jobs as an actuary and as a math instructor at the university, was arrested for driving under the influence and having four Adderall pills in his sock. After he plead guilty to a misdemeanor for possession of drug paraphernalia—i.e., the sock in which he had the four pills—he got a suspended sentence plus a year's probation. Then he was ordered removed (i.e. deported).

Mr. Mellouli appealed and last month the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the case, which is essentially about "whether a minor drug offense must render a lawful permanent resident deportable from his home and family in the United States." This is not the first time the Supreme Court has considered such a question.

From NPR: "Federal law allows the government to deport a non-citizen convicted in state court for a crime 'relating to' any drug controlled under the federal criminal code. But state laws often make many more drugs illegal, and Kansas law treats any container used to store a drug as 'drug paraphernalia.'" The SCOTUS blog noted that during the oral arguments the Justices "probed in detail the meaning of the language and how it applied to the case at hand." In the end, "a majority of the Court seemed to side with...Mellouli’s interpretation" and Mellouli "had the better of the statutory argument."

Justice Samuel Alito made an interesting point, which also might suggest which way the Court is leaning: "'It's really hard to believe that the Kansas statute actually regards as drug paraphernalia any thing that is used at any time to contain a controlled substance.'"