Every day thousands of people find themselves in criminal court having been accused of committing a crime. While criminal court can be a scary, intimidating and rough place to find oneself, it is particularly troublesome for criminal defendants who are not U.S. citizens. In addition to facing prison time or probation, non-U.S. citizens face something potentially much worse-deportation. In criminal court, defendants have a constitutional right to an attorney, so even poor criminal defendants will have counsel representing them–if they cannot afford to hire their own attorney. Regardless of whether a non-citizen defendant hires their own defense attorney or has one appointed, one of the first questions you should ask your lawyer is: what do you know about immigration law? If the answer is nothing or something close, you should immediately contact an experienced and qualified immigration attorney to help with your criminal case.
A non-citizen has so much more to worry about during their criminal case then does a U.S. citizen. There are so many more complications in a criminal case for a non-U.S. citizen, that one should not risk deportation by failing to consult with and hire an experienced immigration attorney who can advise you and your criminal defense attorney regarding your criminal case.
Here are some important reasons why every non-citizen criminal defendant should consult with and hire an experienced immigration attorney to assist in their criminal defense:
Reason #1: A non-citizen can be deported for a conviction involving a minor offense with little or no jail time.
Any criminal conviction, no matter how minor and no matter how lenient the sentence is (including withholds of adjudication with court costs), may have significant immigration consequences.
Many criminal defense attorneys believe that the more severe the criminal conviction, the more severe the immigration consequences. This could not be further from the truth. The length of the sentence can come into play in certain circumstances, but for the most part, a simple conviction for certain crimes can make a non-citizen deportable. So for many crimes, a sentence as light as probation or as heavy as three years in prison have the same immigration consequences. It is very important that an experienced immigration attorney analyze the charges against you and the charges to which you may plead and the sentence you will receive before you agree to a plea bargain. Only then can they advise you accurately as to the immigration consequences of your potential conviction.
Reason #2: The charge to which you plead and the wording in the record of conviction could mean the difference between staying in the U.S. and being deported.
The federal immigration laws and the Florida criminal laws are not mirror images of each other. Therefore, when a non-citizen is convicted in state court, the immigration court must determine whether that conviction serves as a conviction under federal Immigration law that would make someone deportable. For example, in Florida, you can be convicted of theft if the State can prove that you had the intent to, temporarily or permanently deprive the victim of his or her right to property. But for immigration purposes, the intent to temporarily deprive the victim of property would not be considered a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT), which is sometimes a deportable offense. Therefore, a plea to theft in Florida may or may not make someone deportable, depending on their immigration history, the sentence imposed and the language in the conviction documents.
These small nuances in the language of the state statutes play a huge roll in the immigration consequence of state convictions. A criminal attorney aided by an experienced immigration attorney is in the best position to protect a defendant’s immigration status. Many times, a crafty plea in criminal court can help a non-citizen avoid detention and removal proceedings all together.
The experienced criminal and immigration attorneys at Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon can represent you in criminal court and seek to protect your immigration rights. We can also consult with your criminal defense attorney and represent you in immigration court. Call us today for a free consultation.