Eighth Circuit Appeal Victory Leads to New Action for Pro Bono Client

After winning an appeal before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, Blackwell Burke P.A. is now challenging a 125-year-old statute that requires a unanimous vote of the Board of Pardons to effectuate a pardon in Minnesota. The Firm charges that that statute unconstitutionally restricts the Governor’s exercise of executive function and violates Minnesota’s demand for separation of governmental power.

In June 2020, Amreya Shefa—a U.S. permanent resident and Ethiopian citizen—sought a pardon from the Governor and the Minnesota Board of Pardons. The Governor voted to grant Ms. Shefa’s pardon, as did the Attorney General, but the Chief Justice voted to deny Ms. Shefa’s application. Because a pardon is only valid if secured through a unanimous vote of the Board of Pardons, the Chief Justice’s vote precluded the Governor from granting the requested relief. That prompted the Blackwell Burke team to file a constitutional challenge on Ms. Shefa’s behalf, contesting the constitutionality of the unanimity requirement to grant a pardon in Minnesota.

Earlier this year, Blackwell Burke P.A. Attorney Andrew “Andy” Crowder partnered with the University of Minnesota Law School’s James H. Binger Center for New Americans and Robins Kaplan LLP to represent Ms. Shefa in her case before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Ms. Shefa was convicted of first-degree manslaughter after killing her abusive husband and served five years in prison, as the crime exceeded the scope of self-defense in Minnesota. In 2017, Ms. Shefa was ordered to be deported from the United States after serving her time. 

Leading Ms. Shefa’s legal team before the Eighth Circuit, Crowder argued that Ms. Shefa has a constitutional right to a hearing to contest that her offense is serious enough to merit deportation. The Eighth Circuit Court panel agreed and directed the Immigration Court to hold a hearing on whether Ms. Shefa’s manslaughter conviction is a “particularly serious crime” as defined under federal immigration law. The judges also held that the Board of Immigration Appeals violated Shefa’s right to procedural due process. Crowder and team received the order in mid-May.

The government filed a motion for rehearing, which was denied, cementing the Eighth Circuit’s decision to preserve Ms. Shefa’s rights. “The Eighth Circuit has made clear that Ms. Shefa—a non-citizen in immigration proceedings—is entitled to due process like everyone else,” said Crowder. “The court rejected the clear violation of due process and recognized that Ms. Shefa is entitled to a fair and full hearing to adjudicate her immigration proceedings.”

The hearing offers Ms. Shefa and her legal team time to pursue other avenues to keep her safely in Minnesota as she fears for her life upon return to Ethiopia. This includes potential deportation relief that is available to those who would likely be persecuted in their home countries if returned to them. 

In addition to high stakes commercial litigation work, Blackwell Burke attorneys take on pro bono cases and nonprofit activities that positively impact the community.

The legal team consists of Andrew Crowder of Blackwell Burke P.A., Michael D. Reif, and Jennifer K. Lee of Robins Kaplan LLP, Benjamin Casper Sanchez and Linus Chan of the University of Minnesota Law School as well as University of Minnesota Law School Students Gina Tonn and Eduardo Castro.

The University of Minnesota Law School’s James H. Binger Center for New Americans expands urgently needed legal services for noncitizens, pursues litigation to improve our nation’s immigration laws, and supports noncitizens in the region through education and community outreach. Designed in partnership with leading area law firms and non-profit immigration legal services, the Center is the only program of its kind in the U.S. 

The case received broad media attention.

 About Andrew “Andy” Crowder

While Andy Crowder focuses his national practice on product liability defense and commercial litigation, he maintains an active pro bono practice. Andy has represented pro bono litigants in state and federal courts across the country, including before the Eighth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals. Andy’s passion for serving the underprivileged began prior to law school—he was an elementary school teacher with Teach for America in Chicago; he has served as a tutor for elementary, middle-school, and high school students; and recently worked as a history and social studies mentor for students from Cristo Rey High School in Minneapolis.

About Blackwell Burke P.A.

Blackwell Burke is a certified minority-owned trial firm that represents corporate clients in high stakes class actions, mass torts, MDLs and commercial litigation, both at trial and on appeal. The firm has been repeatedly recognized as one of the top litigation defense firms in the country by BTI, Chambers, Best Lawyers and others. Benchmark Litigation named Blackwell Burke the Minnesota Firm of the Year for the past four consecutive years.