If you are an immigrant living in Southern California, what will happen if you are convicted of driving under the influence? It’s the most commonly charged crime in the United States, and honestly, almost anyone can be accused of DUI.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, your status as an immigrant hinges upon your adherence to the laws of the United States. If an immigrant commits particular crimes, that person can become subject to deportation.

If you are in the United States without documentation, with an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa, or even if you are a lawful permanent resident – a green card holder – you cannot afford to be convicted for driving under the influence.

WHAT IS THE FEDERAL LAW REGARDING DEPORTATION?

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 sets forth a number of causes for the deportation (also called “removal”) of persons who are not citizens of the United States.

Which crimes can get someone deported? A conviction for a “drug” crime, a firearms crime, an “aggravated” felony, domestic violence, or a crime of “moral turpitude” makes someone subject to deportation.

A DUI conviction can lead to two distinct immigration consequences. If you do not have a green card, a DUI conviction could prevent you from obtaining one and make you “inadmissible.” And whether or not you hold a green card, a DUI conviction could potentially mean deportation.

WHAT MAKES SOMEONE “INADMISSIBLE” TO THE UNITED STATES?

It’s important here to understand precisely what makes a person “inadmissible” – that is, ineligible to receive a green card.

If you have been convicted of two or more crimes that carry a sentence of five years, if you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, or if you have committed a crime of “moral turpitude,” an intentional act that is “base, vile, or contrary to social norms,” you may be deemed inadmissible.

What is considered “base, vile, or contrary” to social norms? For that matter, how is addiction defined? The truth is that the law gives immigration authorities a considerable amount of latitude and discretion to make these determinations.

HOW CAN DUI MAKE IMMIGRANTS INADMISSIBLE OR DEPORTABLE?

A DUI conviction could be considered evidence of addiction or evidence of moral turpitude, so even a misdemeanor DUI conviction with no damages or injuries can make an immigrant inadmissible and deportable.

And while a single DUI conviction, with no aggravating factors, will not necessarily have an effect on the offender’s immigration status, multiple DUI convictions or a conviction for “aggravated” DUI may be sufficient to make the offender inadmissible and/or deportable.

Sometimes, what can make a person deportable is a crime’s sentence rather than the crime itself.

Harsher penalties are imposed for DUI in California when:

1. the defendant’s blood alcohol content level measured at or above 0.15 percent
2. a minor was present in the vehicle
3. the defendant has a prior DUI conviction
4. the defendant drove recklessly, sped excessively, or caused injury or property damage

If an impaired driver intended harm to someone else or used a vehicle to commit an assault, and that driver is an immigrant, a conviction will almost certainly trigger the deportation process.

WHAT IF YOU ARE SEEKING U.S. CITIZENSHIP?

If you are already a lawful permanent resident in the United States – that is, if you hold a green card – and you are seeking U.S. citizenship, you must prove that you’ve exhibited “good moral character” for at least the last five years. With a DUI conviction, that can be difficult.

Whether or not you are a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, a conviction for driving under the influence in the state of California is punishable with jail, fines, probation, a driver’s license suspension, and more.

WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR A CALIFORNIA DUI CONVICTION?

The penalties for an adult who is convicted of a misdemeanor, first-offense DUI charge in this state may include:

1. up to six months in jail
2. a fine of up to $1000
3. probation for up to five years
4. court-ordered treatment or alcohol education
5. a driver’s license suspension, usually for six months
6. installation of an ignition interlock device in the offender’s personal vehicle in Los Angeles, Alameda, Sacramento, and Tulare counties – and statewide starting in 2019

Subsequent DUI convictions, as you might imagine, are penalized more harshly. And if you are convicted of a felony DUI – no matter who you are or what your legal status is – a lengthy prison term is a real possibility.

Clearly, and especially if you are not a U.S. citizen, you must avoid a driving under the influence conviction.

WHAT ABOUT DRIVING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF DRUGS?

Driving under the influence of drugs (DUID) is legally comparable to DUI. It’s essentially the same charge with basically the same penalties for a conviction. And even if the drug in question is marijuana, deportation is a possibility, because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

Once again, if you are charged with driving under the influence (or with DUID) in southern California, and you are not a U.S. citizen, you must avoid a conviction.

An experienced Orange County DUI attorney can help.

Your DUI lawyer may challenge the legality of your DUI arrest, dispute the results of a breathalyzer or blood test, or challenge the testimony of the officer or officers who arrested you.

SHOULD YOU ACCEPT A PLEA BARGAIN?

While a plea bargain – pleading guilty to a lesser charge – is often a DUI attorney’s recommendation, if you are an immigrant, you may not want to accept any plea deal.

Even a conviction for the lesser charge of reckless driving or wet reckless could attract the scrutiny of immigration authorities.

The best advice – for anyone – is the standard advice. Don’t Drink and Drive. Especially if you are an immigrant in the United States, you must avoid DUI-related legal difficulties.

If you plan to drink, plan ahead. Hire a taxi, a limo, a rideshare service, or have a designated driver. Get a room or sleep on a friend’s couch if you must.

However, if you are charged with DUI for any reason in California, you must obtain legal help and contact an experienced Orange County DUI attorney at once. Your freedom in the United States – and all of your hard work and dreams for the future – will be at stake.