Criminal Defense

Immigration Risks of Pleading Guilty or No Contest

April 22, 2024 by Seppi Esfandi in Criminal Defense  Rights  
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Immigration Risks of Pleading Guilty or No Contest

If you find yourself facing criminal charges, your initial instinct might be to seek out a criminal defense attorney. However, if you’re an immigrant residing in California, it’s crucial to reach out to an immigration lawyer instead. Even if you’re lawfully present in the country, being accused of a crime can jeopardize your immigration status significantly.

It’s especially important to secure legal representation if you’re considering pleading guilty or “no contest.” While these options might seem like shortcuts to avoid lengthy court proceedings, it’s essential to understand that both imply admitting responsibility for the alleged offenses and being prepared to face the consequences. The repercussions of criminal convictions can be particularly severe for immigrants, especially if English isn’t your first language. Steering the complexities of the legal system can be daunting, particularly under the pressure of police interrogations or courtroom hearings.

What Is A No-Contest Plea And A Guilty Plea?

A plea of no contest provides defendants with an alternative to admitting guilt while avoiding a trial. By entering this plea, individuals agree to accept the court’s sentencing without officially admitting to the charges. This plea, indicated by the Latin phrase “nolo contendere,” or “I do not wish to contest,” allows the court to determine punishment without the defendant admitting guilt.

Legally, there’s little distinction between a plea of no contest and a guilty plea in terms of criminal consequences. Both can lead to convictions, penalties like probation or jail time, and a criminal record. However, a key difference lies in how the plea can be used in related civil cases. While a guilty plea can establish liability, a no-contest plea in misdemeanor cases cannot be used as an admission of guilt in civil trials in California, shielding defendants from additional legal repercussions.

Common reasons for entering a no-contest plea include concerns about potential civil lawsuits, maintaining a professional reputation, negotiated plea agreements, and avoiding the risks and uncertainties of a trial. However, by entering this plea, defendants must understand they’re waiving certain Constitutional rights, including the right to a jury trial and the right to confront witnesses.

For a no-contest plea to be accepted, defendants must demonstrate an understanding of the charges, consequences, and voluntary nature of the plea and waive their rights voluntarily, without coercion. While judges generally accept such pleas, they ensure defendants meet specific conditions before doing so.

Consequences Of These Pleas

For immigrants, pleading guilty or no contest can have far-reaching implications beyond what a U.S. citizen might face. While a citizen might seek these pleas to mitigate sentences or avoid trials, immigrants risk deportation, especially for offenses like domestic violence, fraud, or drug-related charges.

Even misdemeanors, though labeled as minor in some states, can trigger deportation proceedings. Immigration courts independently assess whether an offense warrants deportation, irrespective of its classification in state law.

Furthermore, mere accusations of crime can tarnish an immigrant’s moral character evaluation during immigration proceedings, potentially leading to visa denials.

Entering a plea doesn’t ensure immunity; even without a formal conviction, deportation remains a threat. Court errors or unresolved cases may still result in deportation, especially if evidence strongly suggests guilt and the judge imposes some form of punishment.

Ultimately, immigrants must navigate a complex legal landscape where accusations, pleas, and outcomes can significantly impact their immigration status and future in the United States.

Avoiding Deportation

Immigrants seeking citizenship or permanent residency may find it difficult to avoid deportation in the United States’ criminal justice system. However, there are some scenarios in which deportation can be prevented.
Suppose you were convicted of a felony when under the age of 18; you are still eligible for U.S. citizenship or permanent residency. However, being tried as an adult for the same offense may result in deportation.
When a conviction is overturned owing to constitutional reasons, such as inadequate legal assistance, deportation procedures can be delayed by petitioning immigration courts. To guarantee your rights are protected, consult an immigration lawyer before engaging in immigration services.

Can You Withdraw a No-Contest Plea?

Withdrawal of a no-contest plea is possible under California law through a Penal Code 1018 PC Motion, allowing withdrawal before sentencing or within six months of probation if “good cause” is demonstrated. This includes lack of understanding, inadequate legal representation, language barriers, or coercion.

Ensuring your legal matters are expertly managed is crucial, as deportation from specific criminal offenses could permanently bar your return to the United States. Integrating an immigration attorney into your legal counsel post-arrest is paramount for safeguarding future immigration prospects.

Do not put your immigration status up for grabs. If you’re handling your case alone, you can make some disastrous decisions, including confessing guilt for a crime you didn’t commit. Hiring a criminal defense attorney may help uphold your rights by taking care of all the necessary paperwork. Your lawyer diligently works on your behalf, making crucial phone calls, filling out legal paperwork, and communicating with the prosecutor. It is not uncommon for immigrants to lack knowledge of the inner workings of American courts. Because of language problems, it may be challenging to follow court proceedings and read legal papers. A criminal defense attorney will be on your side and will take the time to explain everything to you.

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How to Win Your Case

We cannot stress enough that you read, understand and follow these 10 basic rules if you are criminally charged or under investigation:

  1. Don’t ever talk to the police
  2. Do not discuss your case with anyone
  3. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential
  4. Tell police you need to contact your attorney
  5. Never consent to any search by the police
  6. If the police knock on your door, don't answer!
  7. Realize the consequences of a criminal conviction
  8. Your lawyer (not you) will contact any witnesses
  9. Information on your cell phone is evidence
  10. Early Intervention is the key

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