Aggravated felonies, crimes of “moral turpitude,” and a number of other crimes can make an immigrant – even a green card holder – deportable (or “removable”) from the United States.

Precisely who is deported, and for exactly what reasons? Deportations are increasing, so if you are an immigrant, you will very much need to know what your rights are if you are accused of a crime.

WHAT IS THE LEADING REASON FOR DEPORTATION?

The legal grounds for deporting persons who are not U.S. citizens are set forth in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

The most common reason why someone may be placed into removal proceedings is because that person has been convicted of a crime.

Specifically, immigrants are at risk of being deported if they are convicted of either what is called a “crime of moral turpitude” or an “aggravated felony.”

However, the immigration authorities may define moral turpitude and aggravated felonies somewhat differently than California’s criminal law defines these terms.

Therefore, if you are an immigrant with or without documentation and you are charged with any crime in southern California, you must obtain – immediately – the advice, insights, and representation of a criminal defense attorney.

WHAT IS A CRIME OF MORAL TURPITUDE?

Crimes of moral turpitude are not very precisely defined in U.S. immigration law. However, the Department of State has explained that a crime of moral turpitude typically includes “fraud, larceny, and intent to harm persons or things.”

A crime of dishonesty or theft will almost always constitute a crime of moral turpitude. Assault with the intent to rob, injure, or kill, domestic violence or abuse, and aggravated driving under the influence are always considered crimes of moral turpitude.

Drug crimes and gun crimes will probably be scrutinized by immigration authorities to determine if some element of moral turpitude was involved.

Most – but not all – drug crimes are considered crimes of moral turpitude.

WHAT CONSTITUTES AN “AGGRAVATED” FELONY?

A crime makes a convicted immigrant offender deportable under the Immigration and Nationality Act if it is an aggravated felony that can be punished on conviction with at least five years in prison.

But here’s where the law gets tricky. For the purposes of federal immigration law, a “conviction” includes more than guilty verdicts, guilty pleas, and no contest pleas. Immigrants need to know what immigration authorities mean when they use the term “conviction.”

WHAT IS CONSIDERED A CONVICTION BY IMMIGRATION AUTHORITIES?

Immigration authorities may consider convictions that were vacated through pretrial diversion programs and even convictions that have been expunged. That’s why it’s critical to avoid any criminal conviction – whether you are undocumented, carrying a visa, or holding a green card.

You also must not accept any plea bargain that would be considered a conviction for a deportable crime.

And that’s another reason why, if you are an immigrant, and you are charged with any felony or misdemeanor in southern California, you must be represented by a qualified defense lawyer who is familiar with immigration law and who routinely represents immigrant clients.

HOW ARE DRUG CRIMES HANDLED?

Immigration authorities offer little leniency when it comes to drug crimes.

Even attempting to commit a drug crime or conspiring to commit a drug crime – anything more than a single, prior conviction for possessing thirty grams or less of marijuana for personal use – makes an immigrant potentially deportable, even if that immigrant is not personally a drug user.

An immigrant must also avoid a conviction for driving under the influence – DUI.

If you are prosecuted for DUI, and if the charge includes any aggravating factors – reckless driving, property damage or injuries, or a minor’s involvement – those factors will be taken into account by immigration officials.

Even if you are convicted on a misdemeanor, first-offense DUI charge with no aggravating factors, any subsequent DUI charge will probably bring you to the attention of the immigration authorities and make you deportable.

COULD YOU BE INADMISSIBLE IF YOU LEAVE THE U.S.?

If immigration authorities do not remove you after a criminal conviction, leaving the U.S. temporarily after a conviction could trigger genuine legal trouble.

The rules for admissibility and the rules for deportation are different, so if an immigrant leaves the country after a criminal conviction, that immigrant may be inadmissible when he or she tries to return to the U.S.

Deportation and inadmissibility are not the only potential consequences of a criminal conviction for an immigrant. If you are a lawful permanent resident seeking U.S. citizenship, even a misdemeanor conviction can put the naturalization process on hold – in some cases, for years.

For all of the reasons mentioned above, you really must have a defense attorney’s help to avoid a conviction if you are charged with any crime while you are an immigrant in the United States. It’s your right.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU ARE CHARGED WITH A CRIME?

Being charged with a crime, of course, does not automatically mean that you will be convicted.

To convict you, a prosecutor must prove that you are guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, but a good defense lawyer can fight aggressively to have the charge against you dropped.

If the charge cannot be dismissed, your attorney can take your case to trial and ask a jury to return a not guilty verdict.

HOW CAN A DEFENSE LAWYER HELP YOU?

If you are arrested and charged with any felony or misdemeanor in southern California, you’ll need to take your case immediately to an experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorney.

Your attorney will protect your rights, examine the evidence and facts in your case, interrogate witnesses on your behalf, and fight aggressively for the justice you need and deserve.

Every case that comes to the attention of immigration authorities is carefully and individually examined, but it’s better if you don’t come to their attention at all. If you are facing criminal prosecution in southern California, you’ll need a good defense lawyer’s help.

Good criminal defense attorneys routinely help their clients avoid criminal convictions. Legal help is your right in the United States. Do not wait to get the help you need.

By: Douglas Miranda

Los Angeles criminal attorney Douglas Miranda graduated with honors from California State University, Los Angeles, and earned his J.D. from Western State College of Law in Fullerton. Since his admission to practice law in California, he has received special training and certification in forensic science, jury selection, and sex crime defense. Mr. Miranda also helps clients terminate their probations early and expunge their criminal records.

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