Being arrested and charged with a criminal offense is always stressful, scary, and confusing. For immigrants and other non-citizens, there may be even more on the line. Indeed, a criminal charge could have very serious consequences for you and your family—potentially even leading to a denial of citizenship rights or removal from the country. In this article, our Miami immigrant criminal defense attorneys highlight four of the most important things immigrants and other non-citizens need to know about the criminal justice system.

1. You Have the Right to an Attorney—in Criminal Court

If you are an immigrant or visa holder, you may already be aware of the fact that you are not guaranteed a right to counsel in immigration court. As immigration cases, including deportation cases, are civil matters, there is no guaranteed right to a public defender. You need to hire your own lawyer. While it is best to retain your own lawyer for criminal cases as well, it is important to understand that you FIND MORE LEGAL ARTICLESSEARCHdo have a guaranteed right to counsel in a criminal court.

2. Immigration Consequences Must Be Considered

In defending a criminal charge, it is imperative that you and your lawyer review and consider all of the potential ramifications on your immigration rights. If you fail to do so, you could end up taking a deal that is not in the best interests of you and your family. Before you plead guilty, please make sure that you understand the impact the charge will have on your immigration status.

3. Certain Offenses are Grounds for Deportation

Many serious criminal offenses are grounds for immediate deportation. More specifically, a person can be deported if they commit a ‘Crime of Moral Turpitude’. Also referred to as a CMT, a Crime of Moral Turpitude is not well-defined in U.S. immigration law. Instead, it is a general category that includes a wide range of violent and otherwise serious criminal offenses.

4. Criminal Charges Can Affect Your Chances of Gaining American Citizenship

With some exceptions, misdemeanor offenses are not typically grounds for deportation. As an example, a lawful permanent resident who is arrested for a first-time drunk driving offense will generally not be subject to removal. That being said, these types of offenses can still have an impact on your immigration rights.

As explained by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), applicants need to prove “good moral character” in order to obtain American citizenship. Though not an automatic bar to citizenship, a misdemeanor offense may undermine a citizenship application. If you are planning to apply for citizenship in the future, please raise this issue with your defense lawyer.

Immigrant Criminal Defense Attorneys Can Help

A criminal defense lawyer has the specific knowledge needed to effectively represent immigrants.

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