For lawful “permanent” residents, a criminal conviction often means deportation, banishment from this country and permanent separation from their family and friends. Fortunately, the immigration laws provide the opportunity to seek a “second chance” for long term permanent residents with certain convictions. The first battle is to demonstrate our client’s eligibility for this relief; once that battle is won, the client must have a trial: referred to as an “individual” or a “merits” hearing, before an Immigration Judge, with a prosecutor who represents ICE.
With certain narrow exceptions, a conviction for any controlled substance offense renders a non-citizen deportable. As a result of the opioid epidemic, and the widespread use of marijuana, many permanent residents will be placed into deportation-removal proceedings as the result of mistakes made, often many years in their past.
It is important to have an experienced criminal-immigration attorney defending these types of cases. Many immigration attorneys know how to prepare family based petitions, but lack trial experience. They feel nervous in the courtroom and are unfamiliar with how to try a case. Others may have experience in Immigration Court, but have no foundation in criminal law and so do not understand the complex interplay between criminal and immigration law. Only an advocate experienced in both criminal and immigration law can guide you through these troubled waters. The Terezakis Law Firm has this expertise. Last week we won 2 trials in 3 days and brought our clients home. Most importantly, we convinced the government to accept the Judges’ decisions as final, and so our clients were spared the expense and uncertainty of an appeal.
In the first case, our client stumbled into a major narcotics conspiracy after doing a friend “a favor” by buying him some cocaine. He was one of 20 persons named in a 36 count indictment, which appeared to charge each defendant as a “Major Narcotics Trafficker”. Careful review of the 100 paragraphs which described the criminal conduct in the single count which named our client, revealed he was never charged as a “Major Trafficker”, and that only 2 paragraphs even referenced him: one involved his call to arrange the purchase, and the other, the purchase. Had we not clarified the minor and tangential involvement of our client at the outset of the hearing, it is unlikely the Judge would have ever considered the favorable evidence: our client’s history of working on the books and paying his taxes; his close and supportive relationship with his U.S. citizen children; his ties to his community; his modest lifestyle; his good moral character and his genuine remorse for his misconduct.
Our second client, also a permanent resident, was nearly rendered ineligible for cancellation of removal after his prior attorney negotiated a plea to an offense which would have been classified as a drug trafficking aggravated felony. Our client sought our counsel after pleading guilty to possession of a controlled substance, because he feared he might be deported. He had pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine, but was advised the specific subdivision involved possession with intent to sell – which would be considered a drug trafficking aggravated felony. Our review of his plea minutes established he never admitted any intent to sell, and so we were able to vacate his guilty plea. Our client ultimately re-pleaded to simple possession, as a felony, which preserved his eligibility for cancellation of removal.
By the time of his deportation hearing, 10 years had passed since his misconduct, and he never again violated the law. We submitted proof of his successful completion of a drug treatment program shortly after his arrest, as well as the results of six months of recent drug testing which confirmed he had indeed stopped using any drugs. We also documented his severe disability, due to a work related accident, with medical records and post-operative reports. In the end, his extensive family ties, the evidence of his rehabilitation, the severity of his disability, and his continued need for medical treatment in the U.S., tipped the balance and convinced the Judge and government attorney he deserved a grant of cancellation of removal. If his initial plea had not been vacated, however, he certainly would have been deported.
In each case, our client accepted responsibility for his actions; he pleaded guilty and served his sentence. Most importantly, we were able to demonstrate that on balance, our client deserved a second chance. At the Terezakis Law Firm, our experience in criminal-immigration law, and in trying these hardest of cases, ensures our clients have the best possible chance of being granted a second chance to remain in the United States. After all, what is more American than a second chance for someone who deserves it?