Immigration Consequences of Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Immigration Consequences of Driving Under the Influence (DUI)

Immigration Consequences of Driving Under the Influence (DUI)As an immigration attorney, I consult with potential clients by phone daily. When I first started out, I would often be unpleasantly surprised to find that a seemingly uncomplicated case became incredibly complicated once the client got around to disclosing his or her past misdeeds. Now I ask about criminal history, especially related to drugs and alcohol, right off the bat. I also encourage green card holders with no criminal record or immigration problems to naturalize as soon as possible so that future problems do not have negative immigration consequences.

Drunk driving laws are different in each country and, thus, aliens who come to the US and drive while under the influence may not realize that they are putting their ability to immigrate to the US in the future at risk. Conversely, US citizens often find themselves inadmissible to foreign countries based on their own criminal histories.

While simple DUI cases involving aliens rarely make the news, cases involving celebrity defendants often do. Scott Weiland, lead singer for the rock band Stone Temple Pilots, recently learned first-hand the effects that DUI can have on immigration in foreign countries. Arrested on November 21, 2007 by the California Highway Patrol for DUI, he was sentenced to 192 hours of jail time at the Van Nuys jail. Weiland did not appear at his arraignment, but rather entered a plea of “no contest” to misdemeanor DUI with a prior conviction through his attorney. He was just over the legal limit. In addition to fines and participation in an alcohol program, he was sentenced to four years of probation. His other band, Velvet Revolver, was forced to cancel scheduled appearances in Japan due to concerns of the effect Weiland’s multiple arrests to have on his ability to enter Japan.

Unless you are a citizen of the United States, driving under the influence here could get you deported, barred from re-entering the US for a period of time, or prevent you from becoming a green card holder or citizen. Inexperienced criminal defense attorneys make tragic errors when advising clients on DUI matters, often failing to take into consideration the ramifications a particular plea or conviction will have on the immigrant’s legal status in the US. Unfortunately, the criminal justice and immigration systems often do not intersect enough to make these dangers known to defendants who either defend themselves or have an inexperienced defense attorney.

Immigration status has little effect on the punishment received for a DUI, but for the possibility of enhanced penalties for driving without a license, proper registration, or proof of insurance. Typical DUI penalties include loss of driving privileges (if you had them in the first place), fines, mandatory attendance at alcohol classes, and possibly jail time. Recently, states began requiring installation of an ignition interlock device (IID) prior to reinstatement of a driver’s license. Some states will reduce or eliminate some of the penalties if you attend an alcohol treatment center. Penalties increase in intensity with subsequent DUIs.

Each state has its own drunk driving laws and, therefore, the affect a DUI conviction will have on your immigration status could depend on where you were when you were pulled over. And not all convictions will immediately result in negative immigration consequences. For instance, a DUI might not affect a green card holder unless he applied for citizenship.

Millie Anne Cavanaugh, Esq. is a Los Angeles immigration lawyer and former insurance defense attorney. She is licensed to practice law in California and Massachusetts. The information contained herein is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as a solicitation for your business or as legal advice on any subject matter. You should not act or refrain from acting on the basis of this information without seeking independent legal advice.

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