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Are There Immigration Consequences for a DUI in California?

There are many people without lawful status living in the East Bay, working jobs that citizens don't want to do and contributing to the community and the economy. Unlawful residents are always at risk of deportation if they are caught by immigration officials. As a result, many immigrants avoid the police, even when they need the help of law enforcement. 

Some immigrants may get pulled over for a traffic violation. If the driver has had a few too many drinks, they may risk an arrest and conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). Most DUI charges are misdemeanor offenses. However, there are serious consequences for some types of offenses, including possible deportation. 

To avoid the collateral consequences of a drunk driving conviction in the East Bay, talk to an experienced East Bay DUI defense attorney. Your defense attorney can advise you of your rights, help you keep your license, and tell you about any possible immigration consequences of pleading guilty to a DUI. 

Consequences of a Drunk Driving Conviction in California

According to the American Immigration Council, there are more than 2 million undocumented immigrants living in California. California law authorizes driver's licenses for undocumented residents who pass state driving tests and follow California traffic laws. However, when an undocumented driver gets pulled over for drunk driving, they may have more at stake than a U.S. citizen. 

A drunk driving conviction under California Vehicle Code 23152 is one of the most common charges in California. Despite being so common, the penalties can be severe, including: 

The penalties increase for a 2nd or 3rd DUI within a 10-year period. A 4th DUI in 10 years is a felony. The penalties can increase for more serious DUI offenses, including:

Is a DUI an Inadmissible Offense?

There are generally three categories of immigration status for drivers in California, including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (LPRs or Green Card holders), and unlawful immigrants. What happens after a criminal arrest may depend on the driver's immigration status. For non-citizens and non-LPRs, certain criminal offenses can make them "inadmissible" to the U.S. 

For example, if a citizen of Canada has multiple criminal convictions for drug trafficking, they may not be permitted to enter or remain in the U.S. Categories of inadmissibility related to criminal convictions include the following: 

  • Crimes involving "moral turpitude”
  • Violation of any controlled substance law 
  • Multiple criminal convictions
  • Drug trafficking
  • Prostitution
  • Commercialized vice
  • Commission of a serious crime in the United States where a person has asserted immunity from prosecution
  • Violations of religious freedom
  • Human trafficking
  • Money laundering

None of these violations are directly aimed at drunk driving. However, a drug DUI may be considered a violation of a controlled substance law and could mean inadmissibility into the U.S. to visit or stay. If a driver has two or more criminal convictions for drunk driving, that may also be the basis of inadmissibility. If you are facing a second DUI charge within a 10-year period, talk to your DUI defense attorney about your legal defense options. 

Is a DUI a Deportable Offense?

If a lawful permanent resident (LPR) is convicted of a deportable offense, they could lose their legal status and be deported or put into removal proceedings. This can be a life-altering consequence and tear families apart. According to U.S. Immigration Law, inadmissible offenses include: 

  • Crimes involving "moral turpitude”
  • Gun crimes
  • Drug offenses
  • Domestic violence
  • Smuggling
  • Multiple criminal convictions
  • Aggravated felonies
  • Stalking
  • Child abuse

Generally, a drunk driving conviction is not a deportable offense. However, a DUI offense can be considered a deportable offense in some situations where a DUI is an aggravated felony.

Most DUIs are misdemeanors but there are a few ways a DUI can be charged as a felony. A 4th DUI within a 10-year lookback period is a felony offense. A subsequent DUI after a prior felony DUI is also a felony. A DUI involving serious bodily injury or death is also a felony. 

In some cases, a DUI is associated with other criminal charges, which could elevate the simple DUI arrest to felony charges, including: 

DUI is a Disqualifying Offense for DACA

Immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children brought by their parents unlawfully may have special protections. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) can get employment authorization and remain in the United States, under strict limitations. According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), offenses that are disqualifying misdemeanors for DACA include: 

  • Domestic violence
  • Sexual abuse or exploitation
  • Burglary
  • Unlawful possession of a firearm
  • Drug distribution
  • Drug trafficking
  • Driving under the influence

A DUI is a disqualifying misdemeanor for DACA purposes, specifically addressed by U.S. immigration law, regardless of the sentence imposed. "A single conviction for a misdemeanor offense as described above is disqualifying for purposes of DACA."

Fighting Drunk Driving Charges in Oakland

For most lawful immigrants, a single DUI will not be enough for deportation. However, multiple DUIs or drunk driving arrests involving drugs, injuries, or fatal accidents can be much more serious. For DACA-eligible individuals, a first-time DUI may be enough to lose lawful status. This is why it is so important to talk to an experienced DUI defense attorney immediately after an arrest. 

After a DUI arrest in California, drivers only have 10 days to request a formal DMV hearing to try and keep their license. If drivers wait more than 10 days, their driving privileges will be suspended. Your attorney can request an APS DMV hearing and represent you at the hearing so you don't have to. Your attorney can also review your case to build a legal defense, to help you avoid a serious criminal conviction that could result in deportation or inadmissibility. 

If You Are an Immigrant, Lawful or Unlawful, Call an East Bay DUI Defense Lawyer After a California DUI 

Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of East Bay DUI defense experience and understands the challenges facing immigrants and their families in California. Pleading guilty could result in immigration consequences, including deportation. Get legal advice before you admit to any charges. If you are facing DUI charges anywhere in Oakland, Alameda County, or Contra Costa County, contact attorney Lynn Gorelick

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