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Can Plea Bargains have Immigration Consequences?

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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The Basics of a Self-Defense Claim in Tennessee

Most people know that they have the right to defend themselves from harm. However, the law does not allow you to justify violence by claiming self-defense in any given situation. It is important to understand the basics of self-defense under Tennessee law, both to prevent criminal charges and to defend against them.

The following is a brief overview regarding how Tennessee treats self-defense. To discuss how the law may apply to a specific situation, please contact Barnes Law directly to consult with an experienced Knoxville criminal defense attorney.

How a Self-Defense Claim Works

Claiming self-defense means that you admit that you acted in violence toward another person, but you claim that you had legal justification for the violence. This is a common claim when someone is accused of assault or murder, and they allege that the harm was necessary to protect themselves from violence. There are some requirements for when you can lawfully claim self-defense:

  • You were not engaging in illegal activities at the time
  • You had the right to be in that location at that time
  • You had a real honest belief that the threat of bodily harm was imminent and that your actions were necessary to protect you from the imminent harm
  • Another reasonable person would have also feared imminent harm and believed the actions were necessary under the same circumstances

It is important to emphasize that you must prove you feared imminent harm, such as someone coming at you aggressively, swinging a punch, or driving toward you in their car as if to hit you. Self-defense would not be justified if someone threatened later violence against you. For example, if a person at a bar said they were going to fight you outside in 20 minutes, you would not be justified in using violence right then to prevent later harm.

In most cases, the other person must be the initial aggressor in the situation. If you push someone and start a fight and they push you back, you cannot lawfully continue to use violence to protect yourself from them. One exception to this requirement is if the other person substantially escalates the violence. If you push someone and then they pull out a gun, you can then protect yourself from deadly harm. Additionally, you may be able to claim self-defense if you start a fight, try to retreat from the fight, and the other person continues to act violently and pose an imminent threat of harm. If the other person is the initial aggressor, however, there is no duty to retreat before you act in self-defense in Tennessee like there is in some other states, due to the “Stand Your Ground” law.

Using Deadly Force in Self-Defense

In some cases, an act of self-defense may cause or threaten death to another person. Deadly force is only justified to protect against serious bodily harm or death. For instance, if someone swings a punch at you, the law does not allow you to shoot or stab them to protect yourself. The deadly force must be proportional to the harm feared.

Tennessee does have a law called the “Castle Doctrine,” which allows people to use deadly force under certain circumstances to protect themselves in certain locations. The Castle Doctrine is based on the idea that your home is your castle and you should be able to protect yourself in your home and similar location. The Castle Doctrine creates a legal presumption that self-defense may be justified if someone forcibly enters the following locations:

  • A home that you own, lease, or in which you are an invited guest
  • A business establishment that you own or in which you work as an employee or an agent of the owner to protect the premises
  • A building or dwelling of any kind with a roof over it that is intended for use by people, including mobile homes and tents
  • Any type of motorized vehicle designed for people to use on public roads to transport people or items

In order for the Castle Doctrine to apply, you must be lawfully in the location and you must know or reasonably believe that the other person unlawfully entered. The law does not permit deadly force in the following situations:

  • The victim of the deadly force had the right to enter the home or location
  • The victim of the deadly force was trying to remove a child or person over which they have legal custody or guardianship
  • The person using deadly force was engaging in unlawful activity or using the building to conduct unlawful acts
  • The victim of the deadly force was a law enforcement officer entering the building or operating a roadblock or traffic stop as part of their duties as an officer, and the person using force had reason to believe the victim was an officer

If someone has the right to enter a home or building, the Castle Doctrine does not protect you if you use deadly force against them. You also cannot provoke the person into entering the home of using force. Deadly force is never warranted to protect items of personal property or to get a trespasser off a property if they are not trying to enter the building or its dire

Claiming Self-Defense

A successful self-defense claim requires careful strategizing and presentation of evidence. If police arrest you, it may be tempting to tell them you acted in self-defense right then and there. However, if you cannot later prove self-defense, your claim may be used as an admission of a violent act. Instead, always call a criminal defense lawyer before answering any questions or making any claims to police or prosecutors.

Find Out How Our Knoxville Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help You At Barnes Law, we regularly represent clients facing violent criminal charges, identifying all possible defenses such as self-defense claims. After an arrest, it is always wise to exercise your right to an attorney immediately and contact our office for assistance. We can also help if you already face criminal charges and will work to reach the most favorable outcome possible.

A First-Time Drug Conviction Can Affect Your Professional Future

If the police arrest you on suspicion of drug possession or sales, you will likely face charges for a serious drug-related offense under Tennessee law. Many people fail to take first-time drug charges seriously, as they mistakenly believe that having small amounts of drugs is “no big deal.” In reality, any drug conviction can have serious and lasting consequences far into the future.

When you worry about a drug-related conviction, you may initially worry about the possibility of fines, probation, or time behind bars. You may not realize that the consequences of a conviction can reach far probation or jail a sentence, and the financial implications can continue long after your fines and court costs are paid. This is because a drug conviction can have lasting effects on your professional future.

 

Higher Education Opportunities

Drug possession charges are common among college students. While you may think a drug charge is a separate matter from your college attendance and academic performance, drug possession violates college codes of conduct, and your school may take disciplinary action against you based on your criminal case. Such action can include expulsion from your school, and you can find it difficult to gain acceptance to another institution.

Even if you are not expelled, drug activity can disqualify you from participating in collegiate athletics, which can also cause you to lose a substantial scholarship. Drug convictions can also render you ineligible for federal financial aid, upon which many students rely to attend college. Not finishing a college program can limit your opportunities in your intended professional field.

 

Finding a New Job

When you apply for a job, many companies will conduct a criminal background check as part of the application process. When a prospective employer learns you have a drug conviction on your record, they may decide not to hire you, despite your experience or qualifications for the position. This is especially true as most drug convictions are felonies in Tennessee, and many companies have policies against hiring convicted felons, even for a first-time offense. For this reason, a drug conviction can substantially limit your job opportunities and your ability to earn higher salaries.

 

Eligibility for a Professional License

Many careers require you to obtain and maintain a professional license. Such careers include:

  • Doctors and dentists
  • Nurses
  • Lawyers
  • Accountants
  • Locksmiths
  • Commercial drivers
  • Chiropractors

When a licensing board considers an applicant, they will often consider many aspects of their personal and professional history, including their criminal background. Criminal activity is often viewed as a negative factor when it comes to issuing professional licenses. For example, a drug conviction can cast doubt on your character and fitness to handle money or confidential information or on your reliability due to possible substance abuse issues.

 

Security Clearances

Many government agencies, government contracts, or security companies require you to have some level of a security clearance. The process of obtaining a clearance is not an easy one, and many factors will be considered when determining whether to issue you a clearance to have access to confidential and sensitive information. One factor is your criminal background.

While a criminal conviction may not disqualify you from getting a security clearance on its own, it can work against you. According to the Department of Defense, some of the main reasons for a clearance denial include:

  • Drug involvement
  • Criminal conduct
  • Personal conduct

As you can imagine, a drug conviction can be a strike against you when it comes to all of the above factors, making it more difficult to obtain or keep a security clearance.

 

Avoiding a Drug Conviction Whenever Possible

Even a first-time drug conviction can affect your professional life for years to come, often limiting your earnings and opportunities. This is only one of many reasons why you should avoid even a first conviction whenever you can. The right criminal defense lawyer will be able to identify ways to defend against your charges and avoid a conviction on your record, depending on the circumstances of your arrest and charges.

Some common defenses against drug charges include:

  • 4th Amendment violations – Police cannot simply search you, your vehicle, or your home whenever they want, as the 4th Amendment of the United States Constitution protects you from unreasonable search and seizure. If police officers found drugs without a warrant or another legal justification for a search, a skilled defense attorney can argue that any drug evidence should be suppressed form your case.
  • Challenging constructive possession – Drug possession charges can be based on actual possession (i.e., you had the drugs on your immediate person) or constructive possession (i.e., the drugs were in a place where you had access to control them, such as a shared apartment or vehicle). Prosecutors usually allege constructive possession based on circumstantial evidence, which an attorney can challenge.
  • Forensic lab errors – In order to convict you of drug possession, a prosecutor must prove that the substance you possessed was an illegal drug. This is often accomplished by forensic lab testing and reports. Forensic lab technicians can make mistakes that render test results unreliable or inaccurate. Your attorney can provide evidence of possible errors to call drug evidence into question.

In addition to the above defenses, a defense lawyer can also look into the possibility of a diversion program such as drug court that keeps you out of jail and keeps a conviction off your criminal record. The best way to know your defense options is to discuss the specifics of your charges with a criminal defense law firm as soon as you can.

 

Contact an Experienced Knoxville Criminal Defense Lawyer as Soon as Possible

You should never risk an unnecessary or wrongful drug conviction by representing yourself. Even for first-time offenders, convictions can have long-term effects on both your professional and personal life. To ensure you obtain the best possible outcome in your drug case, you should consult with a qualified Knoxville criminal defense lawyer right away after an arrest. Attorney John Barnes regularly handles drug-related cases in Tennessee, so please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for a free case evaluation.