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Deportation: The Hidden Price of Pleading Guilty

The immigration process is difficult and contains many pitfalls. Incurring a criminal charge can complicate this, especially since people charged with crimes are often never informed about how a guilty plea will affect their status.

The effect a criminal conviction has on a person’s legal status depends on the nature of the charge. The relevant crimes can be divided into two categories — aggravated felonies and crimes of moral turpitude. Aggravated felonies include crimes like theft, filing a false tax return, and drug trafficking, among others. The immigration consequences of aggravated felonies are significant. If an immigrant is convicted of, or pleads guilty to, an aggravated felony, the immigrant will be barred from naturalizing as a U.S. citizen and may be deported.

Moral turpitude offenses are crimes that reflect on a person’s character and represent a violation of basic notions of right and wrong. Crimes of moral turpitude include most violent crimes such as assault and murder, sexual offenses such as rape and child molestation, and crimes involving dishonesty, such as burglary, larceny, or receiving stolen goods. A conviction for a crime of moral turpitude can result in a temporary bar to naturalization for up to five years.

Deportation does not necessarily occur immediately following a conviction. It can sometimes take years before deportation procedures are begun. It is not realistic make the mistake of believing you are no longer in danger of deportation because your conviction occurred a long time ago.

Immigrants facing criminal charges do have options and deportation is not the only outcome. For instance, immigrants charged with a crime can apply to a court for a request to stay in the United States or they can try to have their conviction vacated. The forms of relief available to immigrants depend largely on the nature of the crime charged, the sentence received, and whether the immigrant was required to serve jail time, among other factors.

The immigration consequences of particular crimes are often difficult to ascertain because immigration and criminal law are two separate bodies of law that were developed independent of each other. Many prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys are not well versed in immigration. Therefore, if you find yourself facing a criminal charge as an immigrant, you should contact a Florida attorney with experience in both criminal defense and immigration law as soon as possible.

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