Criminal convictions can have an enormous impact on visa holders, lawful permanent residents or anyone seeking status in the United States. While the idea of a conviction may seem obvious, like many legal terms, it’s more complicated than it initially appears.
It’s all about good moral character
Good moral character is one of the cornerstones of attaining and retaining, immigrant status in the U.S. Criminal convictions, or the lack of them, is a big part of establishing that character. Something that does not qualify as a conviction outside of immigration purposes may very well qualify in the context of immigration.
To qualify as a conviction, there must have been an adjudication of guilt, in some form. This could mean a finding of guilt by a judge or jury, or a plea of guilty or no contest by the individual. Even if the individual doesn’t plead guilty, if they admit sufficient facts so that guilt may be implied, that could be enough to establish that a conviction has occurred, for immigration purposes.
Additionally, some form of punishment must be ordered by a judge for it to qualify as a conviction. This could include anything from a fine or probation to a jail or prison sentence.
Juvenile convictions do not count unless the individual was charged as an adult. If someone is diverted before trial, so that no conviction is ever entered, this won’t count either. However, there are times when the court’s judgment is deferred after a plea or finding of guilt is entered; this can still qualify as a conviction. So too will a case where the conviction is later expunged – for immigration purposes, it does not disappear.
If you’re facing criminal charges, it may not be wise to rely on a public defender when it comes to your immigration status. They are two separate things and the public defender may not fully understand how it will impact you. Instead, speak to an attorney who specializes in immigration law to ensure the immigration implications are addressed properly.