Criminal Law

Immigration Consequences for Ex-Rutgers Student Charged for Webcam Spying?

Dharun Ravi, the former Rutgers University student who was convicted of invasion of privacy, bias intimidation, witness tampering and other crimes which resulted in the September 2010 suicide of his roommate, Tyler Clementi, may have bigger problems than serving a 30-day jail sentence. Ravi, a lawful permanent resident of this country, set up a webcam to spy on Clementi, catching an intimate encounter between Clementi and another man on the webcam just a few days before Clementi killed himself. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail — a sentence that will likely be appealed by prosecutors.

Lawful Permanent Residents Not Immune from Deportation/Removal

Ravi is a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder), and has been in the United States since he was a young child. Unfortunately, LPRs are subject to removal if they are convicted of an “aggravated felony” or a “crime of moral turpitude”. The definitions of those two categories of removable crimes are somewhat ambiguous, and subject to interpretation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. In some cases, an exception exists for crimes that carry a minimum sentence of less than a year imprisonment. This exception is key to Mr. Ravi’s case — he likely will not face any issues with ICE because, despite the conviction, his sentence is less than one year. However, others are not so lucky. If you are a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), you are still vulnerable to potential removal if you are convicted of a crime. LPRs who find themselves on the wrong side of the law need criminal defense counsel that is sensitive to and knowledgeable about the intersection of criminal law and immigration, or “crimmigration” as it has been termed.

Be Careful What You Plead To

More often than not, a great plea deal for your average criminal defendant is an LPR or other immigrant’s worst nightmare. First, most plea agreements that require you to plead guilty (even if it will be dismissed after a set period of time) are considered “convictions” for immigration purposes. The USCIS and ICE have access to the full criminal background of all visa applicants, visa holders and green card holders, including records of convictions that were later expunged. (Which is why, by the way, it is imperative that you disclose any and all instances in which you pled to or were convicted of any charge, including minor infractions, even if they were later expunged.) Also, as discussed above, even if your sentence is suspended, if the minimum sentence for the crime you are “convicted” of is one year or more, you could be placed in removal proceedings. This is precisely why it is imperative for criminal defendants who are in the U.S. on a greencard or some other immigrant status to obtain immigration counsel in addition to their criminal defense counsel.

Just remember, if you are not a United States citizen, you can be removed (deported) for engaging in certain criminal acts. Be careful, and seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney.