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The Immigration Impact of a Guilty Plea

Immigration Law Concept

Those who lawfully live in the U.S. under a work or travel visa or a green card may often tune out immigration-related discussions that focus on illegal immigration. But unfortunately, even a legal immigrant can quickly become illegal if he or she is convicted of a crime.

Federal immigration laws are very tough on crime, and the cases interpreting these statutes have expansively defined the types of crimes that can subject someone to deportation. Read on to learn more about the collateral immigration consequences of a guilty plea and what steps legal immigrants should take after being charged with a crime.

What Happens to Your Immigration Status If You're Convicted?

Pleading guilty or even entering a plea of no contest to certain crimes can be enough to subject a legal immigrant to deportation proceedings. And even entering a plea of not guilty won't protect an immigrant from deportation if they are later adjudicated guilty after a trial.

In general, two categories of criminal convictions can render a legal immigrant deportable: aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude. Aggravated felonies are fairly self-explanatory and can consist of crimes like armed robbery or burglary, assault, rape, and murder.

However, crimes of moral turpitude is a much broader, and some might argue murkier, category. It can refer to both felonies and misdemeanors. These crimes are often seen as those that involve an extra level of negligence or dishonesty, like fraud, driving under the influence, domestic abuse, or falsification of legal documents.

But ultimately, whether your crime is deemed one of moral turpitude will depend on the statements of the arresting officer and the judgment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who handle your case.

If you plead guilty to a crime that falls into one of these two categories, or are adjudicated guilty after a trial, a few things can happen.

The first is that you'll be subject to an ICE hold if you're required to serve any jail or prison time. This means that even once you've completed your state jail sentence, you may remain incarcerated until ICE agents are able to take custody of you and transfer you to a federal facility.

You'll then either be released without conditions, continue in detention, or be released pending deportation. In some cases, you may have a GPS device like an ankle bracelet placed on you so that ICE agents will be able to locate and deport you at a later time.   

In other cases, you may not be subject to an ICE hold while in lockup but will instead be served with deportation documents after you've returned home. In the current political climate, you can usually assume you'll be taken into custody and deported at some point after you've been convicted of a felony or serious misdemeanor.

What Should Immigrants Do After an Arrest?

If you've been arrested and charged with a crime that could potentially subject you to deportation proceedings, talk to an attorney as soon as you can. Even if you're guilty of some or all of the criminal conduct you're alleged to have committed, you may have options short of pleading guilty or being convicted at trial.

For example, you may be permitted to plead guilty to a lesser offense that falls outside the bounds of either an aggravated felony or a crime of moral turpitude. In other situations, the evidence against you won't be admissible in court, requiring the district attorney to dismiss the criminal charges.

But only by consulting with an attorney will you have a better picture of the options available to you and how you can retain your legal immigration status. Call Barrett & Howell Attorneys at Law for a consultation.

Barrett & Howell
Attorneys at Law

5 W. Hargett St., Suite 700
Raleigh, NC 27601
Phone: 919-833-2561
Fax: 919-833-6795

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P.O. Box 1023
Raleigh, NC 27602

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