What If I’m Not a Citizen and Have Been Charged with a Criminal Offense?

If you’re charged with a crime in Houston or anywhere in Texas, and are not a citizen of the United States, the stakes of a criminal conviction can be even greater. In addition to jail time or fines, if you are charged and convicted of an offense, the immigration consequences can be severe and lead to detention, revocation of status, denial of naturalization, removal from the country and denial of permission to re-enter the country. If you are a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), entered lawfully with a visa, or are undocumented, it is critical that you obtain the best criminal defense attorney you can to help you fight your criminal case and protect your legal status in this country. Attorney Jose Ceja has helped hundreds of non-citizens successfully fight their criminal cases and understands how important it is to do everything possible to protect his clients’ immigration status.

The goal is always dismissal of the charges against you. If your case is dismissed, then your records can be expunged, and the arrest likely won’t negatively impact your immigration case. For example, if you’re charged with Driving While Intoxicated and the case is dismissed, your attorney can file an expunction that would destroy most records relating to the offense and clear your name. An experienced, hard-working attorney can help you maximize the chances of getting your case dismissed and protecting your legal status in the country.

However, if your case is not dismissed, then you will typically have to choose between a trial and a plea agreement, and again, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help advise you on the best way to proceed to ensure the best possible outcome.

A plea agreement is an agreement that is reached with a prosecutor for a particular sentence in a case. It is critical to remember that although a plea agreement might seem lenient, it could be treated severely under Federal Immigration Law. For example, you might be offered a small fine and short community service for a theft case, which might seem like a tempting offer to accept. However, theft crimes are treated very severely under Federal Immigration law and could have disastrous consequences for your immigration status in this country. Likewise, most felonies and cases involving domestic violence (known as Assault Family Violence in Texas) are extremely problematic from an immigration perspective and a conviction should be avoided if there is any possible way to do so.

In some cases, a trial is the best way to ensure that a criminal conviction does not create an immigration problem for you. During a trial, the prosecutor attempts to convince a jury that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The prosecutor will present witness and evidence to attempt to do this, and it is critical to have an experienced criminal defense attorney fighting for you in court. If you are acquitted at trial (known as a verdict of “not guilty”), then you are eligible for an expunction and can clean your record. If not, however, you will have a permanent conviction that can be used against you in an immigration case.

At What Point Do I Need To Consult With An Immigration Attorney?

If you are arrested and charged with an offense, you should consider obtaining the advice an immigration lawyer immediately. In some cases, a simple arrest – and not necessarily a conviction – can trigger action by an immigration court. In many cases, however, the advice of an immigration attorney will be needed before a case is resolved, and not necessarily at the outset of a case. At Ceja Law Firm, we believe that the best attorneys dedicate their practice to one area and as a result, we only practice criminal law. That is why we work closely with immigration attorneys to advise our clients of potential immigration consequences of a criminal conviction.

As noted above, the goal is always dismissal. However, if the case is not dismissed, a defendant will usually have to choose between a plea agreement or a trial. Attorney Jose Ceja is a former prosecutor and has handled thousands of criminal cases in his career. Although he can fully advise a client with respect to the criminal consequences of a plea agreement, it is critical that a client fully understand the immigration consequences as well. For that reason, we will often ask an immigration lawyer for an opinion letter, which thoroughly explains exactly what could occur in an immigration case if a plea is accepted.

Immigration law is constantly changing and in order to protect your status in the country, it is critical to be fully informed as to the consequences of a plea or resolution of a case. Sometimes immigration problems can arise unexpectedly. For example, many counties in Texas offer something known as a pre-trial diversion, which is sometimes offered, if at all, in less serious cases. A pre-trial diversion is a contract with the District Attorney’s office that if certain conditions are met, a case will be dismissed. Although this can sound like an excellent way to resolve a case, many District Attorneys’ offices require defendants to admit to the offense they were charged with during the application process, usually by writing a letter. This letter has been used against defendants in immigration proceedings even though a case is ultimately dismissed. But many criminal lawyers could be unaware of these traps if they do not keep up with immigration law or work closely with immigration lawyers.

If you are not a United States citizen and are charged with any criminal offense, the stakes are much higher for you. But with the right attorney, it is possible to maximize your chances to obtain a favorable result in your case. Ceja Law Firm has successfully defended clients charged with virtually every criminal offense in Texas, from misdemeanor theft or DWI, to serious felonies, including aggravated assault or sexual assault. Contact Ceja Law Firm today for a free consultation.