What happens when an immigrant is charged with a crime? Hi, I’m Jim Hacking, immigration lawyer practicing law throughout the United States out of our office here in St. Louis, Missouri.
I just got done with my wife Amany watching the Perry Mason series on HBO, and for me, it was a real treat because Perry Mason was a show that I watched when I was a kid, all these old reruns, so this was a show from the 1950s that was in black and white, and it was a lawyer show. Perry Mason was a great criminal defense lawyer who always had a knack for solving a crime and then getting someone to confess on the witness stand. Of course, that rarely happens in real life. But when I was watching the show, which I enjoyed a lot, it reminded me why I wanted to be a lawyer and why I do what I do. And then it got me thinking about immigrants that commit crimes.
And of course, the vast, vast, vast majority of immigrants are law-abiding individuals who just want to follow the law and build a nice life for their family. And so I always get upset when people try to portray immigrants as criminals. The fact is that the general population of U.S. citizens commits crimes at a higher rate than immigrants, so putting all that to the side, there are certainly situations where immigrants get into criminal trouble, and they may consult with a criminal defense lawyer, and they need to be very careful because when you deal with the criminal defense lawyer and you’re an immigrant, you want to make sure that they have the experience of dealing with crimes and immigrants. I think that there are lawyers who could and should specialize in this, but you definitely want to have someone who understands the immigration consequences of whatever you do.
At least two or three times a week, we talk to people who are immigrants who’ve committed some sort of crime, and that could be a crime in their past, a crime a long time ago, or it could be a crime that’s currently pending against them. But the one thing that you need to remember if you’re an immigrant and you’ve been charged with a crime is that you need to think about the immigration consequences almost as much as the criminal consequences. In other words, when you commit a crime, most likely you’re going to be charged in state court, and most state courts are not that experienced of dealing with immigrants who commit crimes. In other words, there are special concerns for immigrants that have to be taken into account when a judge is processing somebody’s case, when a prosecutor is processing someone’s case, and most importantly, when a defense attorney is representing an immigrant. They need to know how complicated it is.
And what do I mean by that? Well, when an immigrant commits a crime and we are consulted in what kind of a plea might be acceptable or what they should be thinking about as they make their way through the criminal justice system, we have to do a lot of research because the problem is there are 50 different states, and all 50 states have their own criminal laws and ordinances and regulations. And on the federal side, immigration law is federal, so it’s tricky to compare whether a state law crime can get someone deported. So, ideally, if you are an immigrant charged with a crime, you need to be having your criminal defense lawyer and your immigration lawyer talking to each other. You don’t want to have one go too far ahead of the other. As the criminal defense lawyer is negotiating with the prosecutor or getting ready for trial or trying to hammer out a guilty plea, the criminal defense lawyer should also be speaking with the immigration lawyer to make sure that they’re not going to plead you out to something that gets you deported.
Because the fact is, most criminal cases do not end up in a trial. Most end up with a guilty plea. And what you want to do is work with the prosecutor, if they’re being reasonable, to try to obtain a guilty plea that will put the immigrant in the best possible position to stay in the United States, because that’s the whole game. And so we see, time and time again, also, where criminal defense lawyers who don’t know about immigration just plead out an immigrant as if they were a U.S. citizen, and they get that immigrant a deal that would be great if the person were a U.S. citizen, but because they are an immigrant, they find themselves deported.
The Perry Mason case did not involve a crime involving an immigrant, but it got me thinking about crimes and immigrants, and we have a lot of information, both on this YouTube channel and on our website, about immigrants charged with crime. And if you find yourself facing a criminal charge, I’m sorry about that, but you might want to give us a call at (314) 961-8200. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to join us in our Facebook group, which is called Immigrant Home. And if you like this video, we ask that you please share it out on social so that you get updates whenever we make videos just like this one. Thanks a lot. Have a great day.