Articles Posted in Immigration

Here in Georgia a Defendant was stopped by the police, who thereafter found 1.3 grams of marijuana. Because of our State’s relatively harsh drug laws, he was forced to plead guilty to drug distribution, although his lawyers were able to get the conviction expunged if the Defendant successfully completed a period of probation. However, the Defendant was not a U.S. Citizen. Two years later, immigration authorities threw him into custody to begin deportation proceedings. After a fight that took several more years, the United States Supreme Court yesterday held that this man was not automatically subject to deportation. The Supreme Court said that not all marijuana distribution offenses rise to the level of being an “aggravated felony”, which in the immigration context means that the person is just about automatically deportable. The case is Moncrieffe v. Holder.

Mr. Moncrieffe is originally from Jamaica, but has legally lived here in the U.S. for many years. His lawyers faced the same dilemma we face when representing aliens accused of crimes, the question of whether a guilty plea might make the person subject to deportation (or “removal” as the term is now called). Like many people, Mr. Moncrieffe seemed ready to accept a deal that called for no jail time and expungement. Little did he know that the feds wanted to kick him out of the country for this relatively minor offense.
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In Atlanta, and across the country, representing clients in immigration removal proceedings with criminal convictions can be tricky. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Chaidaz v. U.S., _____ U.S. _____ (2013), is bound to make things even trickier. Far too often, we come across the non-citizen client who has already accepted a plea in criminal court without receiving competent advice from his attorney regarding the devastating consequences of deportation.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized this deficiency in Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. ____ (2010), when it ruled that 6th Amendment protections require criminal defense attorneys to inform non-citizen clients when there is a risk of deportation as a result of a guilty plea. After Padilla, non-citizens who were placed in removal proceedings for their criminal conviction were able to raise specific 6th Amendment challenges through petitions for habeas corpus and other similar post conviction mechanisms.
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In a case arising out of south Florida and its proximity with Cuba, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently affirmed parts of a case involving a plan to smuggle potential baseball players into the United States. Besides being an interesting view into the modern methods of stocking a Major League Baseball franchise, the case also contains lessons for lawyers and employers. As we are seeing in our immigration crimes practice, more and more employers run into the danger of a potential federal criminal prosecution whenever the employer communicates with or hires a person from another country.

The case is United States v. Gustavo Dominguez. Mr. Dominguez is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Cuba. Mr. Dominguez has represented numerous Cuban nationals who came to this country and later became professional baseball players. The government’s theory was that Dominguez conspired with others who smuggled the potential players into this country, with the goal of later representing the players if and when they were snapped up by a Major League franchise. The players were taken to California where Dominguez got an experienced immigration attorney to help them work through the immigration process. The trip to California and the immigration applications led to charges of transporting illegal aliens and concealing or harboring them in this country.

The jury found Mr. Dominguez guilty of conspiring with and aiding others who smuggled the players into the country. Additionally, the jury held that Dominguez was guilty of helping to transport the Cuban players from Florida to California and also found him guilty of harboring or concealing these same players. The majority of the Court of Appeals Panel reversed the convictions relating to transporting and concealing the players. Basically, the majority held that by taking the players to an attorney Dominguez could not be guilty. Oddly, the majority affirmed the convictions for smuggling these same players.