If you are living in the United States and are not a citizen, criminal convictions can have devastating immigration consequences. If you are not very careful during your criminal defense, you could find yourself behind bars, subject to a federal immigration hold, or worse yet, subject to mandatory detention, deportation, and inability to return to the United States. The following information is designed to inform you about why you need to hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows about the immigration consequences of crimes in Utah.
I. The Arrest
If you have been arrested for any crime, the first thing that you must remember is that you are not obligated to speak with the police. Even though you are not a citizen of the United States, you are protected by the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution from being forced to say anything that can be used against you in court. Because admitting to police any details about criminal conduct can be used by immigration authorities against you to deport you, it is essential that you do not answer police questions without a lawyer present. All you have to do is tell the police you will not answer any questions until you have an attorney present to help you. The police may tell you that you won't get an attorney for several days. They may tell you that all you have to do is talk to them and they will release you. The police may try to be your friend.
II. Lawful Permanent Residents Accused of Crimes
If you are a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States, it is highly recommended that you seek representation from a criminal defense attorney who also practices immigration law when you think you may be charged with a crime. As a Permanent Resident, you have much to lose from an ill-thought out guilty plea that could result in you losing your resident status, being cut off from your family. Remember, the time to fight to keep your legal status in the United States is NOW; if you are convicted of a crime that will result in adverse immigration consequences, you may not have another opportunity to correct your situation in the future. See our article titled “Can I be Deported if I Have a Greencard” for more details.
III. Undocumented Immigrants Accused of Crimes
Even if you do not have a legal status in the United States, it is strongly recommended that you hire a criminal defense attorney who is familiar with immigration law. If you have been detained in jail as a result of your arrest, you may have an immigration hold placed upon you, and you may not be able to be released even if you pay the bail for the state or city crime you were arrested for. Speak with a criminal defense attorney who also practices immigration law, and the attorney will be able to assist you in both resolving your criminal case with the least damage to you, and also will be able to help you fight your removal case in the Immigration Court. Many undocumented immigrants believe that once they are arrested, they will automatically be deported. This is simply not true. There are many cases in which an attorney can help you resolve your criminal case in a way that will preserve precious rights to receive relief from removal in the immigration court.
Remember, the time to act is NOW. The time to defend yourself and preserve future rights is NOW. Talk with an attorney familiar with the special needs to immigrant defendants so that you can preserve your future immigration interests.
Should I use a private attorney or public defender who does not have immigration knowledge?
First of all, an immigrant should always consult with an attorney familiar with immigration consequences of crimes before pleading guilty to any crime, even a minor crime. This is because the consequences of crimes are very different in the immigration context than they are in the normal criminal context. If your attorney is not familiar with immigration consequences, then he may advise you to plead guilty to a misdemeanor theft offense or drug crime, which will result in a small fine to the court, and no jail time. However you may end up triggering deportation because of that guilty plea.
There are a couple of different options for those immigrants charged with a crime. One is to hire an attorney who can defend you in criminal court, and also knows the immigration consequences of crimes. I regularly represent immigrant defendants before the criminal court. Because I have seen what happens when immigrants plead guilty, and go to immigration court, I know what crimes to avoid and some ways to prevent deportation by helping at the criminal defense stage instead of when it may be too late. Look for a lawyer who has knowledge of both criminal and immigration law.
Another option is to have one lawyer for your criminal case, whether it be a public defender or hired private counsel. In addition, hire another attorney to work together with that criminal defense attorney to assist in structuring any plea deal. I have done this extensively, and in fact work regularly with large public defender organizations and counsel with them on a regular basis about the immigration consequences of crimes. There are pros and cons to this approach but it can be done successfully with experienced attorneys.
What does this mean to me?
If you are not a US Citizen, and are charged with a crime, you need to consult an attorney who is familiar with both immigration law and with criminal law. At Keen Law Offices, we have experience in criminal court and in immigration court. Our team can analyze your criminal charges and recommend the best strategy to preserve your ability to remain in the United States. Our goal is to provide you with an accurate, honest assessment of your case and vigorous representation to accomplish your goals.