In the context of a federal criminal sentencing case, the Eighth Circuit analyzed Iowa's second-degree burglary statute. Noting that the statute criminalizes entrance into a variety of structures not covered by the generic definition of a burglary offense (i.e. a land, water or air vehicle), the court went on to reject the petitioner's argument that these alternative structures were not alternative elements, but actually alternative means that a jury was not required to unanimously agree upon to convict a defendant. The court explicitly noted that the Supreme Court's decision in Descamps rejected such an approach to divisibility. Thus, the court deemed the statute divisible, and examined the documents in the record of conviction. This review led to the conclusion that the petitioner had entered garages during his burglary offenses, and thus, his offenses fell within the generic definition of a burglary offense.
The Eighth Circuit recognized that its divisibility analysis contributed to a circuit split, putting it at odds with the Ninth and Fourth Circuits, but aligning it with the Second Circuit. It also noted that at least one other circuit had declined to reference a separate statute that defined a term in the statute of conviction.
The case is significant for immigration practitioners for two reasons. First, it strongly suggests that a conviction for second-degree Iowa burglary can, under the modified categorical approach, qualify as a burglary aggravated felony. Second, and more importantly, because the Board of Immigration Appeals defers to the law in an individual circuit defining a divisible statute, this case will set the tone for all immigration cases in the Eighth Circuit with regard to analyzing whether a statute is divisible. The means/elements distinction raised by the petitioner (and recognized by several other circuit courts) will no longer play a role in Eight Circuit analyses of the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. This, to say the least, is bad news for Eighth Circuit immigrants with a criminal history.
The full text of USA v. Mathis can be found here: http://media.ca8.uscourts.gov/opndir/15/05/141213P.pdf