Can Plea Bargains have Immigration Consequences?

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A plea bargain can often reduce your charges, reduce your sentence, or result in probation instead of time in jail in exchange for a guilty plea. When you hear a favorable offer from a prosecutor, you may rush to enter your guilty plea to get your case over with. However, before you plead guilty to any offense, it is critical to discuss all of the possible implications with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney. This is because a guilty plea can have many lasting effects of which you may not be aware, including drastic immigration consequences.

Any non-citizen can face serious consequences upon a guilty plea, even if you have a green card. Call Barnes Law to discuss your rights and options with a skilled criminal defense lawyer right away. If you already pled guilty without realizing the possible consequences, call to discuss whether you have options to prevent deportation.

Certain Convictions Can Lead to Deportation

Under the Immigrant and Nationality Act (INA), convictions of certain crimes are justification to initiate deportation proceedings. Such offenses include:

  • Aggravated felonies – The INA defines which felonies are considered to be “aggravated” for the purposes of deportation, including sexual abuse of a child, rape, drug trafficking, and homicide.
  • Crimes of moral turpitude – Unlike aggravated felonies, the INA does not provide a specific list of offenses that may qualify as crimes of moral turpitude, which means the offense violates the standards of the community. Such offenses can include violent or sexual offenses against other people, fraud crimes, or crimes against property such as theft.
  • Drug crimes – Both misdemeanor and felony drug-related convictions can result in deportation under the INA.
  • Domestic violence – Violent offenses against a spouse, partner, or child can lead to deportation, even for a first offense.
  • Weapons crimes – The INA allows for deportation for convictions of illegal possession, sales, or use of a firearm.

A conviction does not only refer to being found guilty at trial, as a conviction can result from a guilty plea, as well. This can be the case even if you agree to a plea bargain that does not result in a mark on your criminal record. If you undergo a period of probation or are subject to any penalties for a guilty plea, it can count as a conviction for immigration purposes. On the other hand, a pre-plea diversion program that does not require you to formally enter a guilty plea does not always count as a conviction, so this is an option your defense attorney should always explore. They should carefully examine whether a deferred adjudication or diversion program may have immigration consequences based on the type of program.

You should also realize that having a criminal record expunged at a later date will not eliminate immigration consequences. Immigration forms require you to disclose all convictions, including those that were expunged. However, if a court vacates your conviction “for cause” due to constitutional violations or a similar reason, you may be able to halt deportation proceedings stemming from that conviction.

Your Attorney Should Inform You of Possible Immigration Consequences

When you decide to plead guilty, your criminal defense attorney should make sure that you understand all possible consequences of your guilty plea, including collateral consequences. In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that defense lawyers must inform non-citizen defendants of the potential immigration consequences and that a failure to do so constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel.

Ineffective assistance of counsel violates your Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and it is possible to have your guilty plea vacated due to this constitutional violation. If your lawyer failed to discuss immigration consequences with you when you were deciding to accept a plea bargain, you can be surprised when Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers take you into custody and start deportation proceedings. In this situation, you should always discuss whether you may get your conviction set aside to halt proceedings while your attorney defends against your charges at trial. However, you only have a small window of time – until you are finished with appeals – before your case is closed and cannot be reopened to claim ineffective assistance of counsel. After learning about deportation proceedings, you should never wait to contact a skilled criminal defense lawyer to learn about your options.

If you cannot get your guilty plea set aside, you may still be eligible for a pardon of your criminal conviction. A defense attorney can advise you whether a pardon may be an option and can help you through that process. While seeking a pardon from the governor or the U.S. President can be complex and can take a long time, a successful pardon can help you prevent deportation.

Avoiding Convictions Whenever Possible

The best way to avoid deportation as a result of a criminal conviction is to avoid any convictions whenever you can. If you get charged with a crime, you need the assistance of a highly skilled defense attorney who knows how to fight to get your charges dropped or who will aggressively defend against charges at trial. While a plea bargain is a common resolution for criminal cases, it is not the only possible resolution, and immigration consequences are not always inevitable.

Our attorney at Barnes Law will investigate the circumstances of your arrest, examine the evidence against you, and develop the strongest defense strategy possible in your case. In the event the prosecutor offers a plea bargain, we will help you carefully weigh your options and advise you of all possible consequences.

Do Not Wait to Discuss Your Situation with Our Knoxville Criminal Defense Attorney The Barnes Law Firm represents criminal defendants at every stage of the criminal process. We can help clients from the moment of an arrest, during the case, and after a conviction, seeking to have the conviction expunged, vacated, or pardoned. If you need assistance with any type of criminal matter, do not hesitate to consult with us right away.

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