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When are the Immigration Consequences of a Criminal Conviction, “Truly Clear?”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Padilla v. Commonwealth of Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356 (2010) that defendants have a Constitutional right to receive accurate advice from their criminal attorneys about the immigration consequences of any criminal conviction. The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that where the immigration consequences of a particular conviction are “truly clear”, “Padilla requires effective counsel to provide more than equivocal advice concerning those consequences . . . [and] in those circumstances, an equivocal warning from the trial court is less than what is required from counsel and therefore cannot, by itself, remove prejudice resulting from counsel’s deficiency.” Hernandez v. State, 124 So. 3d at 763.
The U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida courts have not defined with any specificity what it means when immigration consequences are “truly clear.” However, the most prudent course of action for any criminal attorney is to consider the consequences “truly clear” when a plea to a crime would subject a non-citizen defendant to any ground of removability under INA § 237(a)(2) or a ground of inadmissibility under INA § 212(a)(2). The problem with this approach is that under the current state of immigration law and policy, any plea to any crime, even the most minor misdemeanor can have definite and “truly clear” negative immigration consequences.
The courts have recognized that a conviction for a crime that is considered an aggravated felony mandates the Defendant’s deportation and also bars his eligibility for discretionary relief from removal. See Hernandez v. State, 124 So. 3d 757, 760 (Fla. 2013). This is certainly the type of plea to a crime that has “truly clear” consequences. In addition, any plea to any controlled substance offense (with one very narrow exception related to simple possession of less than 30 grams of cannabis or the paraphernalia related thereto and only for certain non-citizens) has “truly clear” negative immigration consequences and will subject almost every non-citizen to deportation. Any plea to any crime involving a firearm likely has “truly clear” negative immigration consequences. After that, the immigration jurisprudence becomes quite murky and there are few “truly clear” immigration consequences related to crimes of domestic violence, child abuse, child neglect, violations of protective orders or injunctions, stalking, and crimes involving moral turpitude.
The bottom line is, if a non-citizen is convicted of an offense with “truly clear” immigration consequences, and their attorney did not tell them that they will definitely be deported for entering the plea to that charge, then the non-citizen may be able to file a motion to vacate their plea and reopen their criminal case. However, that course of action is not always in the non-citizen’s best interest either, as they subject themselves to criminal jeopardy again, and may receive an even harsher sentence the second time around. That is why it is important for a criminal attorney to successfully negotiate with the prosecutors to not only avoid negative immigration consequences, but additional criminal penalties too.
The experienced criminal and immigration attorneys at Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon have successfully handled numerous motions for post-conviction relief to help non-citizens protect their immigration rights when their constitutional rights were violated in criminal court. Call us today.