For non-citizens, criminal charges carry additional stress because the defendant will often stress about whether or not a conviction will affect his or her immigration status. In fact, the first question non-citizens typically ask their DUI attorney is “will this subject me to deportation?” The good news is that generally a simple drunk driving conviction will not have any immigration consequences, but there are some limited cases where it may.
Cases Where DUI May Result in Deportation
First of all, it’s important to note that because California is a sanctuary state, even those who are in the country illegally will not automatically be deported just because they are arrested on suspicion of DUI. That being said, while local law enforcement cannot contact ICE simply because they arrested someone for drunk driving, arrests and convictions are public record, so immigration officials looking for specific individuals may be able to identify and detain undocumented immigrants if they are arrested.
For individuals in the US on a valid visa, such as a green card, most DUIs will not result in deportation because these crimes are not considered offenses of moral turpitude. Four California DUI-related crimes that can put someone at risk of deportation include:
DUI Related to Drugs
While California state considers a DUI involving drugs to be essentially the same as a DUI involving alcohol, federal law does not. In fact, drug crimes are considered a deportable offense under federal immigration law, which is why driving while addicted to drugs can also result in deportation. Because drug crimes can have such a negative impact on a person’s immigration status, it is often beneficial for those facing these crimes to work with a DUI attorney who can negotiate a plea bargain with the prosecution that will leave them with a conviction that will not result in their deportation.
DUI on a Suspended License
Because a crime of moral turpitude requires some type of intention or knowledge that you are doing something wrong (whereas driving under the influence can occur when someone simply has one too many drinks during dinner), getting a DUI while driving without a valid license is considered a crime of moral turpitude. That’s because you had to willingly and knowingly choose to drive knowing your license was suspended.
DUI with a Minor in the Car
Like getting a DUI with a suspended license if you had a minor in your car at the time of your DUI arrest, you could be considered to have committed a crime of moral turpitude. The good news is that if you had one too many drinks at a family dinner and were arrested with your child in the char, you won’t automatically be subjected to a deportable offense, even if you’re facing enhanced charges for driving with a minor under 14 in the car.
That being said, many people in this situation are also charged with child endangerment and this crime is considered a crime of moral turpitude, which means you could face deportation for this offense. In many cases, the best option for those accused of this crime is to work with a criminal defense attorney who can negotiate a plea bargain that will result in the child endangerment being dropped, eliminating any risk of deportation.
Multiple Criminal Convictions
Technically, getting multiple DUI or other criminal convictions will not subject someone to deportation, but instead make them “inadmissible,” meaning that while they cannot be deported, they will be ineligible to re-enter the US after leaving, will not be eligible for US citizenship and cannot apply for a green card or for adjustment of their immigration status.
Simply getting two California DUI convictions will not make a person inadmissible. In fact, even a single felony DUI is not enough to result in immigration problems. but if he or she has been sentenced in court to five or more years in jail or prison for one or more crimes, he or she will be inadmissible. With enough DUIs or other convictions, this time can add up, especially because the five years is cumulative across an entire lifetime.
It’s also worth noting that two or more DUI convictions can result in the court determining that someone is a “habitual drunkard.” When the government has made this determination, it can make it much more difficult for a person to obtain citizenship because he or she is not considered to be of good moral character.
“Dreamers” Are Subject to Special Rules
It is worth noting that while most immigrants will not have their status affected by a DUI, those considered “Dreamers” because they remain in the US under the DACA program can lose their status if they are caught drunk driving. That’s because DACA has very strict rules that state a substantial misdemeanor, the list of which includes DUIs, can cause them to lose their status under the program.
With this in mind, it is particularly important that those who are part of the DACA program hire a top defense attorney as soon as possible if they have been accused of driving under the influence because this charge can have grave consequences for their future.
Immigrants Deserve a Skilled DUI Lawyer
Perhaps more than anyone else, non-citizens need a top DUI attorney to handle their case and fight for their rights in order to protect their ability to stay in this country. If you or a loved one has been accused of a DUI-related charge, Peter M. Liss can help. Please contact him at (760) 643-4050 for more information to schedule a free consultation to discuss the right defense for your case. Hablamos Espanol.