Is DUI a Deportable Offense?

In Florida, the crime of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs is covered under Section 316.193 of the Florida Statutes. Under this section, the penalties for a first DUI offense (without aggravating circumstances) include up to a $1,000 fine, up to six months in jail, DUI School, driver license suspension, possibly the installation of an Ignition Interlock Device and more.

But what about Green Card holders (lawful permanent residents), do they face additional consequences if they’re convicted of DUI? If an immigrant is found guilty of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, can it lead to removal proceedings under U.S. immigration laws? It depends on the facts of the case.

Generally speaking, a simple first DUI will not trigger removal or deportation proceedings; however, this is not absolute. There is no guarantee. While most misdemeanor DUIs will not lead to deportation, a drug-related DUI or a felony DUI certainly can affect one’s immigration status and they can affect naturalization.

Most Florida DUIs are Misdemeanors

For starters, we’d like to point out that by far the majority of Florida DUIs are misdemeanors. As a general rule, a Florida DUI becomes a felony under one of the following circumstances:

  • It is a third conviction within 10 years.
  • It is a fourth or subsequent DUI offense.
  • Someone was seriously injured due to the impaired driving.
  • Someone was killed as a direct result of the impaired driving.

To summarize: Misdemeanor DUIs do not normally lead to removal proceedings, but a felony DUI or a drug-related DUI can have an impact on a Green Card holder’s immigration status. “When can a misdemeanor DUI initiate removal proceedings?” This can happen when one of the following occurs: 1) the non-citizen was previously convicted of a marijuana offense and it did not lead to deportation, 2) when the DUI is drug-related, or 3) when the immigrant has a history of multiple criminal convictions.

Deportable Offenses Under the INA

If you are in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder), it would be wise for you to familiarize yourself with the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and the list of deportable offenses covered in the Act. For example, Section 237 of the INA, Classes of Deportable Aliens provides a comprehensive list of deportable offenses, including but not limited to:

  • Smuggling
  • Marriage fraud
  • Aggravated felonies
  • Drug-related offenses
  • Domestic violence
  • Multiple criminal convictions
  • Crimes of moral turpitude
  • Certain firearm offenses
  • Failure to register as a sex offender

While there is no clear definition of “crimes of moral turpitude,” these generally refer to crimes that are depraved and go against the morals of society, such as rape, theft, burglary and robbery, manslaughter and murder – those types of crimes. If you are worried about the immigration consequences of crime, here are some basic facts that you should know:

  • Drug crimes have the most serious immigration consequences.
  • Possession of a controlled substance is deportable.
  • Selling drugs is a deportable offense.
  • You can be deported for possessing marijuana, BUT if you’re caught with 30 grams or less for personal use, you should not be deported.
  • You can be deported for possessing drug paraphernalia.

Citizenship & the Good Moral Character Determination

The United States is a great country built by immigrants. For this reason, it welcomes the good citizens of other countries with open arms, providing they are honest, trustworthy and do not violate the state and federal laws of this country. If you are intending on becoming a U.S. citizen, you will need to prove to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you are a person of “good moral character.” If you break the law, you could face removal proceedings if the government decides that you are not a moral person.

If a person is found to be of bad moral character, he or she can be denied U.S. citizenship, but not all crimes are deportable. U.S. citizenship can be denied if the person has committed too many crimes, or if he or she has committed a deportable offense, or if he or she has violated any state or federal drug law. To learn more about the moral character determination, click here.

Going back to DUIs and whether they’re deportable offenses: If you’re a Green Card holder and this is your first DUI offense and you do not have a criminal record, and no one was injured or killed, the DUI should not trigger removal proceedings. Regardless of your immigration status, you should contact our firm to speak with a Tampa DUI attorney for free. As former Hillsborough County prosecutors, we have the knowledge and experience to answer your questions regarding your DUI case.