Understanding Criminal Cases That Have Immigration Implications
In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court finally held that criminal attorneys must advise their clients of the consequences of pleas with regard to possible deportation. Many criminal defense attorneys are not versed in federal immigration law, though, so its ALWAYS a good idea to speak with an expert.
Criminal Defense Attorneys Don't Always Know Federal Immigration LawMany attorneys who represent defendants in state criminal courts are very well versed in state law and practice in local courts. You may do research and find a top criminal attorney in your area, one who comes highly recommended, is respected by the judge, prosecutor and other attorneys, and who knows the system well. And that attorney may cost you a lot of money. You may tell your attorney that you are on a visa, and your attorney may tell you "no problem, I know your case, I'll take care of it." Is that good enough for you? It shouldn't be!
Your Criminal Case Is UniqueIf you are in the United States on a visa, whether its a student visa, work visa, green card, etc., and you are a defendant in a criminal matter, your criminal attorney should be apporaching your case differently than a typical case with a U.S. citizen defendant. The reason is that certain aspects of a plea deal or trial may have a significant impact on your current immigration status. And if you apply for some future immigraiton benefits you may be required to disclose details about your case, which will be scrutinized by government officials in deciding on your application. Your criminal attorney may view a disposition with no active jail-time as a victory; but for you no active jail time could still mean deportation or inadmissibility in the future. So what do you do?
Ask Specific Questions and/or Call An Immigration AttorneyIt's sometimes rare to find an attorney that is well versed in state criminal cases and federal immigration law. Your criminal attorney might be the right person for the job, but s/he might have to do things a little differently when representing you. Talk to your criminal attorney and ask specific questions about the immigration consequences of your case. Then evaluate for yourself if you believe you fully understand the implications. Your best bet, though, is to take it upon yourself to independently contact an immigration attorney so you can get the best advice on what might happen to your current or future immigration status. The immigration attorney may be able to provide you with specific things to avoid or specific ways evidence should be presented, which you can then talk to your criminal attorney about. You may even have the attorneys consult each other on the matter. That way your attorneys may be able to get creative and protect you.
What You Need To KnowAn attorney should be able to tell you "if _____________ happens (e.g. plea deal/amended charge/scentence/elements of the law/deferred disposition/etc.), then your (and maybe your family's) immigration status will be affected like this: ___________ (e.g. removal proceedings/ICE detainer/inadmissiblity/etc.)." And don't be satisfied with vague answers. Remember, its YOUR life so you want to be as well informed as possible in your criminal matter.