When an American citizen is charged with marijuana possession in Louisiana, the penalties can range from up to six months in jail and a maximum $500 fine to up to 40 years in prison and a fine as high as $400,000 – depending on the amount of marijuana found in the person’s possession and the number of prior offenses.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court case illustrated that the penalties can be much more severe when the individual accused of the crime is a legal resident in the United States, but not a citizen. The case involved a man who came, with his parents, to the United States when he was only three years of age. He had been in legal status in the U.S. since he arrived in the country in 1984.

In 2007, a police officer uncovered a very small quantity of marijuana while searching the man’s vehicle. Subsequently, the man faced charges of marijuana possession with the intent to distribute. He agreed to accept a plea deal, which prevented him from facing jail time.

The man was not informed that accepting the deal could have more serious repercussions involving his legal status in the country. After accepting the deal, he was informed that the charges amounted to an aggravated felony under federal law. Accordingly, he was told he would be deported to Jamaica, leaving his wife and five children behind in the United States.

The U.S. Supreme Court determined that based on the small quantity of marijuana found in his possession and the lack of evidence indicating the man was intending to sell the marijuana, mandatory deportation was not required in this case.

Source: NPR, “Justices Say U.S. Improperly Deported Man Over Marijuana,” Nina Totenberg, April 23, 2013.