Plea deals and Immigration Consequences

by keith on July 15, 2013

Plea Deals / Plea Bargains have their Value, But…

Everyone who has ever been arrested and charged with a crime understands and appreciates the value of the plea bargain. It is a compromise which can protect the interests of both the defendant and the State. There are many reasons a person chooses to accept a plea deal even when they may be innocent.

…For a Foreign National, a Plea Deal can have unintended compromises

But for a foreign national here unlawfully or even lawfully, accepting a plea deal can have many unintended compromises. Admissions of guilt for a crime, even if small, can render a foreign national inadmissible or removable. It is imperative that you and your attorney are aware of these consequences. Many times there are ways to negotiate a plea deal with the district attorney to help protect you from becoming inadmissible or removable.
What crimes can affect a foreign national’s immigration status? These are crimes defined as crimes involving “moral turpitude” and aggravated felonies. What does moral turpitude mean? Moral turpitude is defined as acts that are inherently evil or wrong by society’s standards. Practically speaking it involves acts that are offensive to American ethics and accepted moral standards. These crimes can include fraud, theft, drugs (except for simple possession of marijuana under 30 grams and serious violence.

It is important to note that it is the elements of the actual charge you are convicted of or plead guilty to that matters and not the underlying facts of your particular situation. For a crime to involve moral turpitude one of the essential elements of the crime will be your intent. If the crime requires specific intent to do harm or knowledge of the act’s illegality, it will be classified as a crime of moral turpitude and will affect your immigration status. It does not matter that the charge is only a misdemeanor either, the simplest crime can still be great if it involves the intent to do something illegal.

The second important factor is the maximum sentence of the charge you are convicted of and the actual sentence you receive. Charges that carry a maximum sentence of less than one year and you are only sentenced to less than six months, fall under an exception that won’t affect your immigration status.

Your Attorney should be experienced in Immigration Law or Consult with an Immigration Lawyer

However, you must be careful because probation counts as sentencing and even deferrals and withholding of judgment will count as a conviction. It is imperative that whoever represents you, whether it’s your retained attorney or the public defender, is aware of your immigration status so that they can properly advise you on all consequences of a plea deal.

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