In every state, driving under the influence is considered a serious crime.

There are serious penalties for anyone who is convicted of DUI, but if you are an immigrant in the U.S. – and even if you have lawful permanent resident status – a DUI conviction can have drastic consequences.

Understand that this is a basic explanation – a general overview – of California’s DUI law and the potential consequences of a DUI conviction for an immigrant in the United States.

If you need legal advice regarding a specific case – or defense representation – contact an experienced Orange County drug crimes attorney who can discuss the particulars of the case and explain your legal rights and options.

DUI stands for “driving under the influence,” although in some states the charge is called DWI, for “driving while intoxicated.”

When the intoxicating substance that is impairing a driver is alcohol, in all fifty states, the “legal limit” is a blood alcohol content (BAC) level of 0.08 percent.

However, in most states, DUI or DWI includes intoxication by drugs – whether or not the drugs themselves are legal or illegal. Some states like Georgia have different laws, so it is advised to consult with a Georgia DUI attorney.

In California, driving under the influence of drugs is a different charge – “DUID” – although the penalties for a DUID conviction are comparable to the penalties for a DUI conviction.

WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES FOR A DUI CONVICTION IN CALIFORNIA?

Before taking a look at DUI and immigration, here’s a brief overview of the basic penalties for DUI in California.

A first-offense DUI, when no persons are injured and no property is damaged, is usually charged as a misdemeanor in this state.

The potential penalties for a first-offense, misdemeanor DUI conviction include:

– up to six months in jail
– a fine of up to $1,000
– probation for three to five years
– court-mandated substance treatment or alcohol education
– a driver’s license suspension lasting up to six months

The sentence for a DUI conviction can be “enhanced” – that is, it can be more severe – if the DUI happened when a child under age 14 was a passenger in the vehicle, when the driver has a BAC level at or above 0.15 percent, when the driver refuses take to a DUI test, or when the driver was speeding or reckless, driving twenty mph or more above the limit on a surface street or thirty or more mph above the limit on a freeway.

HOW DO CALIFORNIA’S DUI LAWS AFFECT IMMIGRANTS?

California’s DUI laws are designed to discourage repeat offenses, so the penalty for a second conviction is tougher than the penalty for a first conviction, and subsequent convictions are punished with incrementally increasing severity.

In most cases, for example, a fourth DUI offense in California within a ten-year period will be charged and prosecuted as a felony.

If you are an immigrant in the United States, you can’t afford to have even a single misdemeanor DUI conviction.

If you’re charged with DUI as an immigrant and there are aggravating factors in the case – recklessness, injuries, or a minor’s involvement, for example – all of these factors will be considered and scrutinized by immigration authorities.

With even a misdemeanor driving under the influence conviction on your record, and even if you’ve already acquired a green card, you could come to the attention of immigration authorities after a DUI conviction and be subject to removal (deportation).

If that happens, an immigration judge will decide if your conviction constitutes grounds for deportation.

WHAT CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS CAN TRIGGER A DEPORTATION?

If an immigration judge decides that you should be deported as a result of your DUI conviction, your green card could be seized, your lawful permanent resident status removed, and you could be deported and barred from reentering the United States for a number of years.

If you are convicted of any of the following crimes along with DUI, your chance of deportation rises considerably:

– any crime of violence or any crime involving a controlled substance
– an aggravated felony; but at least in theory, immigration authorities may deem almost any misdemeanor or felony conviction as an “aggravated felony” for immigration purposes
– a crime of “moral turpitude” punishable upon conviction by a year or more in custody; or any two separate crimes involving moral turpitude

Every case that comes before immigration authorities is scrutinized individually, but if you are an immigrant in southern California, and if you are arrested and charged with DUI, you must avoid a conviction. The laws may be different in states like Florida, so it is best to speak with a DUI defense attorney in Fort Myers.

A skilled Orange County DUI attorney will try to have any DUI charge against you dismissed, and in many cases, that effort will succeed.

If the prosecutor’s evidence against you is strong, however, your DUI attorney may recommend that you accept a plea bargain.

A plea bargain means that you agree to plead guilty to a lesser charge – such as wet reckless – and in return, the DUI charge against you is dismissed by the court.

WHAT IF YOU BRIEFLY DEPART FROM THE U.S. AFTER A DUI CONVICTION?

Even if immigration authorities do not deport you after a DUI conviction, temporarily leaving the U.S. could generate additional legal problems.

The admissibility rules differ from the deportation rules, so if you depart from the U.S. after a DUI conviction, you may be inadmissible upon your return if you also have a drug or alcohol addiction or a conviction for:

– one or more crimes of moral turpitude
– two or more crimes punishable upon conviction with a sentence of at least five years
– any crime involving a controlled substance

You can even be deemed inadmissible if you have personally admitted to a controlled substance violation without an actual conviction.

In most cases – although every case is different – a single misdemeanor DUI conviction will not make an immigrant inadmissible, but multiple DUIs or aggravating factors increase a person’s likelihood of being deemed inadmissible.

WHAT’S THE BEST ADVICE?

If you are a lawful permanent resident seeking U.S. citizenship, please don’t drink and drive.

A DUI conviction can put the naturalization process on hold for as long as five years.

Anyone seeking citizenship must prove good moral character for the five-year period immediately prior to submitting the citizenship application, and a DUI conviction usually is not considered consistent with “good moral character.”

Remember, of course, that an arrest for DUI is not a conviction, and in many cases a good DUI attorney will be able to help you avoid both a DUI conviction and the unwelcome attention of the immigration authorities.

Of course, the best way to avoid all of these legal and immigration problems is simply by following this one simple piece of advice – Don’t Drink and Drive.