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Aiding and Abetting as an Aggravated Felony

Gonzales v. Duenas-Alvarez, 549 U.S. 183 (2007)

  • In a January 17, 2007 decision written by Justice Breyer, the Supreme Court found that a person who aids or abets a theft falls within the scope of the generic definition of theft. The Attorney General had sought certiorari in this Ninth Circuit removal case. The respondent, a permanent resident, was convicted of violating section 10851(a) of the California Vehicle Code. He was placed in removal proceeding and charged with removability based on an aggravated felony conviction, to wit, a theft offense as defined in INA § 101(a)(43)(G). The Ninth Circuit, relying on Penuliar v. Gonzales, 435 F.3d 961 (9th Cir. 2005), which held that the California statute is broader than the generic definition of theft, reversed the finding of removal.
  • The Supreme Court looked to the generic definition of theft and applied the approach set forth in Taylor v. United States, 495 U.S. 575 (1990), to determine whether a conviction qualifies as a “theft offense.” The Court first held that a person who aids or abets a theft falls within the generic definition of theft offense because an aider and abettor is treated no differently than a principal under state and federal criminal law.
  • The Court next considered Duenas-Alvarez’s argument that the California statute is broader than the generic definition of theft because it defines “‘aiding and abetting’ such that an aider and abettor is criminally responsible not only for the crime he intends, but also for any crime that ‘naturally and probably’ results from his intended crime.” The Court reviewed several cases cited by Duenas-Alvarez to support this argument. The Court concluded, however, that these cases did not show that the California statute is applied “in the special (nongeneric) manner” that would distinguish it from theft offenses in other jurisdictions.
  • The Court declined to consider two additional claims raised by Duenas-Alvares: (1) the California statute holds liable accessories after the fact (which does not require the government to show that the person committed a theft) and (2) “theft offense” includes joyriding or the limited deprivation of the use of a car. The Court found that the lower court had not considered these claims and remanded the case for further proceedings consistent with the opinion.