DUI and Immigration Consequences

A colleague recently contacted me to ask about a plea bargain deal for a driving under the influence charge. It is always best to consider this sort of thing before making the deal.  Indeed, the Supreme Court says defense attorneys are required to do so.  In the landmark case of Padilla v. Kentucky, 130 S. Ct. 1473 (2010), the Supreme Court said:

“Petitioner Jose Padilla, a native of Honduras, has been a lawful permanent resident of the United States for more than 40 years. Padilla served this Nation with honor as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces during the Vietnam War. He now faces deportation after pleading guilty to the transportation of a large amount of marijuana in his tractor-trailer in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

In this postconviction proceeding, Padilla claims that his counsel not only failed to advise him of this consequence prior to his entering the plea, but also told him that he “`did not have to worry about immigration status since he had been in the country so long.'” 253 S.W.3d 482, 483 (Ky.2008). Padilla relied on his counsel’s erroneous advice when he pleaded guilty to the drug charges that made his deportation virtually mandatory. He alleges that he would have insisted on going to trial if he had not received incorrect advice from his attorney….. We agree with Padilla that constitutionally competent counsel would have advised him that his conviction for drug distribution made him subject to automatic deportation.”

Now, back to my colleague’s inquiry. I wanted to relay a quick response. Unfortunately, these aren’t always simple matters. Every case is different, on its facts, and the details can very much matter.

The first step in each case is to identify the immigration status and defense goals.  Here are some threshold questions to consider:

  • First, what is the jurisdiction? Laws and consequences differ state to state.
  • Are there any aggravating factors in the case, such as harms to person or property?
  • Is marijuana, legal or not, involved in the case in any way? While it may not be an issue at the State level, it could become a big issue in future immigration applications or proceedings.
  • Is there any other type of controlled substance that is involved in the case?
  • Was the driver licensed? Were they cited for anything beside DUI?
  • What is the driver’s status in the United States? Visa holders with DUI arrests are having their visas revoked automatically.
  • Were there passengers int he car?  Under 16?
  • Is there an alcohol or drug problem? Government guidance usually requires a panel physician examination.
  • Is there any evidence of a physical or mental disorder? This is potentially a separate basis for inadmissibility.
  • Does the individual have trusted traveler benefits, such as NEXUS and Global Entry?
  • Is there a desire to apply for naturalization in the near future, or even a pending application?

U.S. immigration has gotten harder. These are challenging times for even the best qualified applicants. All potential immigration consequences need to be carefully considered before a plea bargain is struck.

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