CABRERA, 24 I&N Dec. 459 (BIA 2008)

Cite as 24 I&N Dec. 459 (BIA 2008) Interim Decision #3601
Matter of Arturo CABRERA, Respondent
File A76 171 415 – Miami
Decided February 27, 2008
U.S. Department of Justice
Executive Office for Immigration Review
Board of Immigration Appeals
The imposition of costs and surcharges in the criminal sentencing context constitutes a
form of “punishment” or “penalty” for purposes of establishing that an alien has suffered a
“conviction” within the meaning of section 101(a)(48)(A) of the Immigration and
Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(48)(A) (2000).
FOR RESPONDENT: Mayra Joli, Esquire, Coral Gables, Florida
Assistant Chief Counsel
BEFORE: Board Panel: FILPPU, COLE, and PAULEY, Board Members.
PAULEY, Board Member:
In a decision dated June 22, 2007, an Immigration Judge terminated the
removal proceedings against the respondent after determining that the
Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) failed to meet its burden of
proving by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent is removable
because of a conviction for violating a law relating to a controlled substance.1
The DHS has appealed from that decision. The appeal will be sustained, the
proceedings will be reinstated, and the record will be remanded to the
Immigration Judge.
The respondent is a native and citizen of Cuba. The record reflects that in
February 2007, he entered a plea of nolo contendere to a charge of possession
of a controlled substance in violation of the Florida Statutes and that
The respondent, who has been represented by counsel throughout these proceedings, has
not appealed the Immigration Judge’s alternative ruling regarding his applications for relief
from removal.
1 Cite as 24 I&N Dec. 459 (BIA 2008) Interim Decision #3601
adjudication of his guilt was withheld. Under Florida law, criminal defendants
who plead guilty or nolo contendere, including those whose adjudication is
withheld, can be assessed additional costs and surcharges. The record in this
case reflects that the respondent was assessed a total of $458 in costs and
surcharges, several of which were mandatory under the Florida Statutes.
The Immigration Judge concluded that the imposition of court costs and
surcharges against the respondent in connection with his plea did not qualify
as a “penalty” or “punishment” within the meaning of section101(a)(48)(A)(ii)
of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(48)(A)(ii) (2000).
As a result, the Immigration Judge determined that the respondent does not
have a “conviction” and is therefore not removable. The DHS challenges these
findings on appeal. In addition, the DHS argues that pursuant to Florida
criminal procedure, an adjudication of guilt can be withheld only if the
defendant is placed on probation. Thus, the DHS asserts that the respondent
was subjected to some form of restraint on his liberty for purposes of
establishing a conviction under section 101(a)(48)(A)(ii) of the Act.
The issue in this case is whether the imposition of costs and surcharges
following a plea in a criminal proceeding constitutes a “penalty” or
“punishment” such that an alien has suffered a “conviction” within the
meaning of section 101(a)(48)(A) of the Act.
Whether an alien has been convicted for purposes of section 101(a)(48)(A)
of the Act is a question of law, or a mixed question of law and fact, as to which
the Board exercises de novo review. See 8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(d)(3)(ii) (2007).
In regard to the legal question before us, we conclude that a uniform Federal
definition should govern in determining whether the assessment of costs and
surcharges constitutes a “penalty” or “punishment,” irrespective of how the
State might characterize them. See Matter of Eslamizar, 23 I&N Dec. 684,
687 (BIA 2004) (declining to recognize the label “criminal” placed on a
proceeding under Oregon law). In this case, the State of Florida considers the
costs and surcharges imposed on the respondent as “punishment,” a
characterization with which we concur.
In State v. Champe, 373 So. 2d 874, 880 (Fla. 1978), the Supreme Court of
Florida upheld the constitutionality of additional costs and a surcharge under
the Florida Statutes, concluding that a five percent surcharge was reasonably
and uniformly proportionate to the gravity of the offense and therefore could
460Cite as 24 I&N Dec. 459 (BIA 2008) Interim Decision #3601
“properly be considered as a form of punishment for the offense.” See also
State v. Beasley, 580 So. 2d 139, 143 (Fla. 1991) (ensuring that an indigent
defendant is provided due process by requiring courts to determine the
defendant’s ability to pay before enforcing the collection of assessed costs);
Griffin v. State, 946 So. 2d 610, 614-15 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2007) (applying
ex post facto principles to a statute that assessed costs based on a nolo
contendere or guilty plea or a finding of guilt that was entered before the
statute’s effective date). Likewise, Florida courts have characterized certain
fines and surcharges as “penalties” within the criminal sentencing scheme.
See, e.g., Nash v. State, 434 So. 2d 33, 34 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1983) (finding
that a particular fine imposed on a defendant was “expressly authorized . . . as
a penalty in addition to the prison term for the crime which he committed”).
The courts of other states have similarly regarded such costs. E.g., People v.
James, 479 N.E.2d 344 (Ill. App. Ct. 1985); Schiefer v. State, 774 P.2d 133
(Wyo. 1989).
Further, the courts have distinguished between civil monetary penalties and
costs, surcharges, and fines imposed in the criminal context. See, e.g., Griffin
v. State, supra, at 615 (noting that because failure to pay costs imposed in
criminal proceedings can result in additional incarceration, the court could not
“equate these costs with civil filing fees that are assessed against either the
losing plaintiff or the losing defendant and that are enforceable only as a
judgment lien”); see also City of Duluth v. Morgan, 651 S.E.2d 475, 476
(Ga. Ct. App. 2007). The clear majority of Federal courts of appeals have held
that the imposition of costs and other assessments constitutes a form of
criminal punishment or penalty. See, e.g., United States v. Jungels,
910 F.2d 1501, 1504 (7th Cir. 1990) (finding that the imposition of costs under
certain Federal tax laws was mandatory upon criminal conviction);
United States v. Mayberry, 774 F.2d 1018, 1021 (10th Cir. 1985) (holding that
the imposition of a special assessment under 18 U.S.C. § 3013 to offset the
costs of a victims’ assistance fund was a form of punishment within the
meaning of the Assimilative Crimes Act); see also United States v. Ashburn,
884 F.2d 901 (6th Cir. 1989) (same); United States v. King, 824 F.2d 313 (4th
Cir. 1987) (same); United States v. Smith, 818 F.2d 687 (9th Cir. 1987)
The few courts to have found otherwise did so on the ground that 18 U.S.C. § 3013 was
unconstitutional under the Origination Clause in that it constitutes a revenue-raising measure
that did not originate in the House of Representatives. See United States v. Munoz-Flores,
863 F.2d 654 (9th Cir. 1988); United States v. Donaldson, 797 F.2d 125 (3d Cir. 1986).
However, these decisions were ultimately overruled by the Supreme Court, which noted that
six courts of appeals had also found the statute valid. United States v. Munoz-Flores, 495
U.S. 385, 388 n.1 (1990).
2 Cite as 24 I&N Dec. 459 (BIA 2008) Interim Decision #3601
To the extent that restitution may be relevant as an analogous form of
sanction, a majority of courts of appeals likewise consider it to be a form of
punishment rather than simply a civil penalty.3 Moreover, the fact that a
defendant’s ability to pay must be considered before enforcing collection of
assessed costs does not mean that their imposition is not punishment. Bearden
v. Georgia, 461 U.S. 660, 669-70 (1983) (“A defendant’s poverty in no way
immunizes him from punishment. . . . As we [have previously] said . . . ,
‘[a]fter having taken into consideration the wide range of factors underlying
the exercise of his sentencing function, nothing we now hold precludes a judge
from imposing on an indigent, as on any defendant, the maximum penalty
prescribed by law.’” (quoting Williams v. Illinois, 399 U.S. 235, 243 (1970))).
We conclude that the imposition of costs and surcharges in the criminal
sentencing context constitutes a form of “punishment” or “penalty” for
purposes of establishing that an alien has suffered a “conviction” within the
meaning of section 101(a)(48)(A) of the Act. Consequently, we find that the
respondent has been convicted of violating a law relating to a controlled
substance and that he is removable as charged. We further conclude that the
Immigration Judge erred in terminating the proceedings. In light of this
3 E.g., United States v. Ziskin, 471 F.3d 266, 270 (1st Cir. 2006) (observing that restitution
“‘is not a civil affair; it is a criminal penalty meant to have deterrent and rehabilitative
effects’” (quoting United States v. Savoie, 985 F.2d 612, 619 (1st Cir. 1993))); United States
v. Leahy, 438 F.3d 328, 333-34 (3d Cir. 2006) (acknowledging that although restitution
“combines features of both criminal and civil penalties,” its primary purpose is to “‘mete out
appropriate criminal punishment’” (quoting Pasquantino v. United States, 544 U.S. 349, 365
(2005))); United States v. Dubose, 146 F.3d 1141 (9th Cir. 1998) (concluding that the
imposition of restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”), 18 U.S.C.
§§ 3663A-3664, is a form of punishment because the MVRA has not only remedial, but also
deterrent, rehabilitative, and retributive purposes); see also United States v. Dohrman, 442
F.3d 1279, 1281 (11th Cir. 2006) (implicitly recognizing restitution as punishment in
holding that, because the MVRA does not have a prescribed statutory maximum, restitution
orders do not violate the rule set out in Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 490 (2000)
(providing that “[o]ther than the fact of a prior conviction, any fact that increases the penalty
for a crime beyond the prescribed statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and
proved beyond a reasonable doubt”)). But see United States v. LaGrou Distrib. Sys., Inc.,
466 F.3d 585, 593 (7th Cir. 2006) (describing restitution as a “‘classic civil remedy’”
administered in the criminal context (quoting United States v. Behrman, 235 F.3d 1049, 1054
(7th Cir. 2000))); United States v. Nichols, 169 F.3d 1255, 1279-80 (10th Cir. 1999) (holding
that because restitution does not constitute criminal punishment, the Ex Post Facto Clause
does not bar application of restitution under the MVRA).
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conclusion, we need not reach the question whether the respondent was
effectively placed on probation when the adjudication of his guilt was
withheld. Accordingly, the DHS’s appeal will be sustained, the proceedings
will be reinstated, and the record will be remanded to the Immigration Judge.
ORDER: The appeal of the Department of Homeland Security is sustained,
the decision of the Immigration Judge is vacated, and the removal proceedings
against the respondent are reinstated.
FURTHER ORDER: The record is remanded to the Immigration Judge
for further proceedings consistent with the foregoing opinion and for the entry
of a new decision.