Criminal Convictions in Immigration Law

You may be surprised to learn that immigration authorities interpret a criminal conviction much differently and more broadly than is typical in the criminal justice system. This is because the Immigration Nationality Act defines conviction differently from criminal law. You must know that any finding of guilt, a no contest plea, and even an adjudication of a guilt withheld is considered a conviction for immigration purposes. Additionally, any plea agreement or diversion program where the person admits guilt or admits committing to the underlying facts is treated as a conviction.

Another important concept is that the notion of suspended sentences is not recognized by the immigration authorities. If a person was offered a suspended sentence of one year they would not have to go to jail as long as they satisfied terms of probation. The sentence would hang over their head to ensure compliance but once conditions were met the jail time would never be imposed. Immigration treats this as a one year sentence anyway without regard to whether the suspended sentence was ever imposed. The original sentence is what determines the sentence length in immigration law. For example,  the fact that a sentence length is one year or more is often a determining factor in whether the conviction is considered an aggravated felony.

This is why it is vital for anyone that is not a U.S. citizen to consult an immigration lawyer before they accept any diversion agreement or plea offer. No matter how great it may look at first glance, the devil is in the details.