18 Sep 23

A Guide to Federal Criminal Defense for Non-Citizens

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Last Updated on: 22nd September 2023, 12:29 am

A Guide to Federal Criminal Defense for Non-Citizens

Hey there! If you’re a non-citizen facing criminal charges, I totally get how scary and confusing this can be. Let’s walk through this together, okay? I’m here to help explain the criminal justice system and your defense options in simple terms – no fancy lawyer-speak, I promise.

First up: deportation. This is usually the biggest concern for non-citizens charged with crimes. And for good reason – a conviction can get you deported, separated from your family and life here. Not fun. But! There are ways to avoid this if we fight your criminal case strategically. More on that in a bit.

Crimes That Get You Deported

The government has a whole list of “deportable crimes” that can get a non-citizen kicked out of the country[1]. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Drug offenses (even simple possession)
  • Theft
  • Fraud
  • Domestic violence
  • Child abuse

Yep, it casts a wide net. And here’s a scary fact: you can be deported even if you’re never convicted! All it takes is an arrest for something like drug trafficking or prostitution[2]. Wild, right?

Crimes That Keep You Out

Okay, so those crimes can get you deported if you’re already here. But there’s another group of “inadmissible crimes” that will keep you from entering the U.S. in the first place[3]. Stuff like:

  • Drug trafficking
  • Money laundering
  • Prostitution
  • Human trafficking

See the pattern? Basically, moral turpitude and controlled substances are big no-nos. And again, you don’t need an actual conviction for these to count against you.

Fighting Deportation with Smart Defense

Okay, enough scary stuff. Let’s talk game plan. With the right legal moves, we can often prevent immigration consequences like deportation. Here are some of my go-to strategies:

  1. Plea bargain for a non-deportable offense. Prosecutors may be willing to let you plead to a lesser crime that won’t trigger deportation.
  2. Get the charges dismissed entirely. If the case against you is weak, we can push for a dismissal.
  3. Win at trial. Beating the charges at trial means no conviction at all.
  4. File appeals and post-conviction petitions. We can challenge convictions and improper sentences.
  5. Seek a pardon from the governor. This wipes the conviction from your record.
  6. Apply for relief from removal. There are waivers available for some deportable offenses.
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See, tons of options! The key is starting the defense process early. Don’t wait until you’re facing removal proceedings to act.

Common Criminal Charges

Now let’s run through some of the most common federal charges faced by non-citizens and how we defend against them:

Drug Crimes

Drug offenses are probably the most frequent deportable crimes. Simple marijuana possession can be enough to remove you. The good news is these cases are often defensible:

  • Illegal search and seizure. If the police didn’t have probable cause for the search, the evidence may be thrown out.
  • Entrapment. Undercover cops can’t coerce you into committing a crime you wouldn’t otherwise do.
  • Misidentified substances. The cops make lab mistakes all the time.

Fraud Charges

Fraud comes in many forms, like identity theft, visa fraud, tax evasion, and Social Security fraud. The key strategies here are:

  • You were an unknowing participant. Prosecutors must prove you acted intentionally.
  • The scheme didn’t cause enough harm. If the fraud was minor, charges may be dropped.

Theft and Burglary

Property crimes like shoplifting, robbery, and burglary often involve mitigating circumstances:

  • You were unlawfully profiled by security guards.
  • You took something by necessity or duress.
  • You have an addiction that requires treatment, not jail.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence charges can trigger deportation even if they’re dismissed. But we can challenge them by:

  • Contesting the accuser’s credibility.
  • Documenting your innocence.
  • Getting charges lowered to non-deportable offenses.

Federal Immigration Crimes

It’s also possible to be charged with federal immigration crimes like illegal entry, alien smuggling, passport fraud, etc. Defenses for these include:

  • You had valid entry documents that were lost or stolen.
  • You were fleeing persecution or seeking asylum.
  • You were coerced or tricked into the crime.

The Bottom Line

Being a non-citizen charged with a crime is scary. But with an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your corner, you’ve got a fighting chance to avoid immigration consequences. Don’t take a plea deal or speak to police without talking to a lawyer first. Together, we can strategize the best way forward.

Stay strong, get informed, and know your rights. You’ve got this!


[1] INA 237 (a) (2) (B) (ii) [deportable crimes].


[3] INA 212 (a) (1) (A) (iv) [inadmissible crimes].