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You might think that drug possession isn’t that big of a deal, especially if you have a small amount for personal use. Yet, that is not the case. Drug possession is a crime and those arrested face charges for a felony or a misdemeanor. Possession of large amounts of controlled substances makes your situation even worse. The exact type of drug based on federal drug schedules, the amount you had in your possession, and host of other factors determine whether someone receives felony charges.

Like every other crime, felony charges carry much harsher penalties than misdemeanor charges. A conviction typically includes mandatory prison time, probation, and large fines. If you are facing a drug possession charge, it’s in your best interest to hire a criminal attorney to protect your rights and defend you. Until you understand exactly what is going on with your case, you might not know whether you face a misdemeanor or felony drug charge, or multiple charges. Below we offer an overview of the scenarios in which drug possession typically results in a felony charge in Louisiana.

Aggravating Factors Lead to Felony Drug Possession Charges

Simple drug possession charges in Louisiana carry a maximum prison sentence of five years and a maximum fine of $5,000. An arrest for simple drug possession is a misdemeanor, but in some circumstances, it is a felony. Lawyers and courts typically refer to these circumstances as aggravating factors. The most common aggravating factors under Louisiana law include:

Possession in a “Drug Free Zone”

Under Louisiana law, drug possession in a drug free zone is automatically a felony charge regardless of the type or amount of drug. You may not possess drugs on or within 2,000 feet of the following properties:

  • Schools, including any public or private K-12 school, vocational-technical school, or university
  • Drug treatment facilities
  • Religious buildings including churches, synagogues, and mosques, if posted
  • Public housing, if posted
  • Child daycare centers, if posted

Those who possess drugs in a drug-free zone as defined by Louisiana law face the maximum fine and the courts can impose up to one and half times the normal prison sentence.

Possession of the Date Rape Drug

Flunitrazepam, also known as Rohypnol, is used to treat insomnia and also aids with anesthesia. This drug has been around for decades and has earned the nickname “the date rape drug.” Possession of Rohypnol without a prescription and with the intent to commit a violent crime is automatically a felony charge in Louisiana. A conviction carries a fine up to $100,000 and up to 40 years in prison.

Repeat Drug Possession Offenses

Louisiana has what is commonly referred to as “The Three Strike Rule,” intended to deter people from committing multiple crimes. The third misdemeanor charge of any non-violent crime, including a misdemeanor drug possession, or the third felony charge can result in a felony charge that carries a minimum of 12 years in prison. Fortunately, the three strike rule mostly applies to felony charges, but depending on the situation it can apply to drug possession in Louisiana.

High Quantity of Certain Drugs

The federal government divides drugs into five categories of controlled substances, called schedules. Louisiana, like most states, incorporates these schedules into laws related to drug crimes.  Schedule I drug-related crimes typically carry the harshest penalties because they have no accepted medical use and have the highest potential for abuse. Some examples include heroin and LSD. Cannabis is also a Schedule I drug under federal and Louisiana law. Schedule II drugs do have medical applications, but they are highly addictive and can lead to physical and/or psychological dependence. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are cocaine and fentanyl.

Possessing certain amounts of Schedule I or Schedule II drugs result in a felony charge. Aside from the previously mentioned exception of Rohypnol, the possession of drugs from the other schedules typically do not result in a felony charge unless one of the previously listed aggravating factors applies. The quantities of Schedule I and II drugs that can lead to a felony possession charge are as follows:

  • Possession of 28 grams or more of a Schedule I drug besides cannabis and cannabis derivatives carries a minimum one-year prison sentence and a maximum sentence of 20 years and $50,000.
  • Possession of two and a half pounds or more of marijuana also carries a felony charge and the same penalties listed above.
  • Possession of 28 grams or more of a Schedule II drug also carries a minimum one-year prison sentence and a fine up to $50,000.

Possession with Intent to Sell or Distribute

The reason that higher quantities of drugs typically result in felony charges is that the government assumes you have an intent to sell or distribute the drugs. The logic is that why would a person need so much of one substance for personal use unless they were planning on selling the product. Even if you had a large quantity of Schedule I or Schedule II drugs, the state will likely push for a felony conviction on the grounds that you represent a danger to the community. Keep in mind that the intent to distribute is akin to a drug trafficking charge which can land you in prison for up to 40 years on top of fines up to $100,000 depending on the drug.

Protect Your Rights After a Drug Possession Charge in Louisiana

A drug possession charge has serious consequences in Louisiana, especially if you’ve been charged with a felony. Your best chance for getting charges dropped or reduced comes with hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney who knows Louisiana’s legal system and has experience with drug possession charges. The skilled legal team at Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson have more than 50 years of combined experience representing those accused of drug crimes.  Contact us today online or at 504-523-6496 to discuss the circumstances of your drug possession charges and the best path forward for your situation.

Industries are full of jargon and made-up words that describe certain people, places, and things. The legal industry is no different. Crimmigration is one recent word to come out of the offices of criminal defense lawyers, especially those who also specialize in immigration law. You won’t find crimmigration in the dictionary, but you can think of it as the body law that deals with the impact specific crimes have on a non-U.S. citizen’s immigration status.

How Exactly Do Crime and Immigration Intersect for Non-citizens?

The intersection of crime and immigration specifically occurs because non-citizens convicted of crimes face harsh consequences with regard to immigration status. These penalties are in addition to any fines or jail time imposed by the court. Although the criminal justice system separates crimes by felonies, misdemeanors, and other petty crimes, the separation is not as clear for non-citizens. Even minor crimes, such as shoplifting, can result in mandatory removal, the legal word for deportation.

Strict Crimmigration Policies Are on the Rise in the U.S.

Non-U.S. citizens with and without green cards need to be concerned about the recent increase in policies that target those who have committed crimes, even minor ones. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported that their officers arrested more than 140,000 non-citizens in 2019 and removed over 267,000, representing an increase from the previous year. More than 85 percent of those arrested by ICE had pending criminal charges or convictions. The increased removals show that crimmigration policies are on the rise, and the massive numbers suggest ICE is removing far more than violent criminals.

In fact, the anti-immigration rhetoric and policies coming from the Trump administration suggest that the federal government is pushing for removal. Mandatory deportation comes with any aggravated felony conviction, but in other cases, judges have discretion; A judge has the option to let someone stay in the United States or order their immediate removal. In these situations, the policy already exists, and many judges default to the strictest consequence—mandatory deportation.

What Are the Consequences of Crimmigration Policies?

Non-U.S. citizens who are convicted of a crime face a wide array of negative consequences that impact their immigration status. The exact impact depends on the type and severity of the charges, laws about mandatory deportation, immigration status, and the disposition of the court. Examples include:

  • Removal, which is the legal term for deportation, from the United States
  • The inability to re-enter the United States after leaving called inadmissibility
  • Denial of requests for asylum or hardship
  • Inability to apply for permanent resident status referred to as “getting a green card”
  • Inability to naturalize or become a U.S. citizen

Who Is at Risk for Consequences of Crimmigration Policies?

If you have a green card granting you permanent resident status in the United States, you might think you are safe from the consequences of crimmigration policies. It’s true that ICE targets undocumented non-citizens and those without permanent status for deportation and/or inadmissibility. Yet, the government can still force the removal of those with green cards when they commit a crime. Any immigrant who plead guilty or gets convicted of an aggravated felony faces deportation. An aggravated felony is a special class of criminal offenses that refer to serious crimes. Other convictions, arrests, and minor offenses also put immigrants at risk for deportation, typically at the discretion of a judge.

The Criminal Legal Process for Immigrants

When an immigrant gets arrested and charged with a crime, they must go through the same process as citizens, but their immigrant status comes into play during court proceedings. The broad steps of the crimmigration process for immigrants include:

  • Law enforcement arrests a person and takes them to Central Lock-up in New Orleans. Most cities have some sort of central facility, but the exact location varies depending on where you live.
  • Law enforcement books, fingerprints, and processes the arrest at Central Lock-up.
  • The detained immigrant waits to get in front of a criminal judge for an arraignment, where the judge decides whether to release the defendant, release the defendant on bail, or order them to remain in jail to await their trial.
  • The defense and prosecution prepare their cases for trial. The prosecution runs a criminal background check on the immigrant as well as researching the status of the person in terms of citizenship and immigration.
  • The prosecution notifies the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of the arrest but might wait to inform them after a conviction.
  • The trial date arrives and the court renders a verdict for the defendant.

An arrest is unlikely to result in negative immigration consequences on its own; a conviction must occur. Yet, as soon as you are arrested for a crime, you are on the radar of local law enforcement, making it likely you will be arrested again if you do not strictly adhere to laws. Unfortunately, some law enforcement might specifically target you and find a way to arrest you for a crime.

Historically, law enforcement and prosecutors only had the authority to report arrests and charges for major crimes to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The law is unclear under the Trump administration and anti-immigrant sentiments of those in positions of power typically result in reports to ICE for the most minor arrests.

Legal Representation Is Your Best Chance to Avoid Consequences of Crimmigration Policies

If you’ve been arrested and charged with a crime and you are not a U.S. citizen, you have a lot to lose because of crimmigration policies. Your best chance of avoiding deportation and other negative immigration consequences is to hire an experienced crimmigration attorney who can help fight your charges and advocate for you during the criminal process. The skilled legal team at Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson have more than 50 years of combined experience representing non-citizens who face negative immigration consequences as a result of being charged or convicted of a crime. Contact us today online or at 504-523-6496 to discuss your situation, your crimmigration legal needs, and the best path forward for your circumstances.

Foreign nationals, permanent residents, and other classes of immigrants in the United States face harsh penalties if convicted of drug charges. The U.S. is tough on drugs, and even tougher when non-U.S. citizens are involved. We have developed this guide to provide an overview of the immigration-related consequences you face with a drug conviction, the consequences of specific types of drug charges, and how to fight deportation based on drug charges.

Potential Immigration-related Consequences of a Drug Conviction

The consequences you might face for a drug conviction depend on your legal status as a non-U.S. citizen and your specific drug-related crime. They include:

  • Mandatory deportation
  • Possible deportation, and/or
  • Inadmissibility to the United States

When courts deem non-citizens inadmissible after a drug conviction, they have the following restrictions:

  • They cannot legally re-enter the United States after they leave.
  • They can never become a U.S. Citizen.
  • They can never apply for a Green Card, a.k.a. permanent resident status.
  • They can never apply to adjust their status from illegal to legal.

If a non-citizen came to the United States legally, courts typically do not automatically deport him or her after a drug conviction. Instead, courts rule them inadmissible. In practice, it has the same impact because if the non-citizen ever leaves the country, he or she cannot return.

Controlled Substances that Lead to Deportation

Federal law categorizes drugs as controlled substances that fall into one of five groups, referred to as schedules. Each schedule contains a variety of drugs—illegal and legal. Everything from marijuana to heroin to crystal meth and in between is listed on one of the schedules. You will also find legal drugs that doctors prescribe such as painkillers, on the schedules. The government must prove that your drug charges involved one of the controlled substances on the federal schedules for you to suffer mandatory deportation or inadmissibility.

Specific Drug Crimes that Lead to Deportation

The extent of your drug charges influences the likelihood of possible or mandatory removal from the United States. Drug abusers, drug addicts, and any crime involving a controlled substance can possibly result in deportation. For example, less than 30 grams of marijuana for personal use typically does not result in deportation after the first offense.

Mandatory Removal

If a drug conviction includes any of the following circumstances, you face mandatory deportation as well as inadmissibility to the United States:

  • You are charged with an aggravated felony. The circumstances that make a charge aggravated vary. Examples include drug crimes that include the use of a deadly weapon or repeated offenses. An aggravated felony drug conviction also prohibits you from asylum relief, cancellation of removal, or the ability to reapply for entry based on hardship.
  • You have been convicted of two or more crimes with combined prison sentences over five years.
  • You are charged with a drug crime involving moral turpitude that you committed within five years of your arrival in the United States that carries a minimum one-year sentence. Moral turpitude is the notion that a crime is morally wrong and doesn’t live up to social standards. Drug possession charges typically are not crimes involving moral turpitude, but many other drug-related crimes are.

Deportation for the Possession and Personal Use of Drugs

The United States doesn’t usually deport drug addicts and those who abuse drugs, but you have a better chance of avoiding deportation if you complete a drug treatment program. Louisiana is one of the states that has a pre-trial diversion program. These programs require those with drug charges to complete a substance abuse program prior to going in front of a judge. The prosecutor drops the charges after successfully completing the program. However, once you are found guilty or accept a plea deal for a drug charge, you risk deportation even if you’ve completed a substance abuse treatment program.

The simple possession of a small amount of drugs is not an aggravated felony punished by more than a year of jail time, so you will avoid mandatory deportation. The exception to this rule is Rohypnol, commonly called the date rape drug. In other cases, judges have discretion on whether to deport you. Each case is different and each judge is different, making it necessary to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible if you are a non-U.S. citizen who has been charged with possession of a controlled substance.

Possessing drug paraphernalia also does not typically result in deportation. Prosecutors need to prove that the paraphernalia is connected to specific drugs you had in possession.

Impact of a Vacated, Expunged, or Pardoned Drug Conviction

If you are fortunate enough to have your drug conviction vacated or expunged from your permanent record, it removes the penalties that come with the conviction; however, it does not remove the consequences you face for immigration status. The law makes an exception to this rule if your Constitutional Rights were violated during the legal process. A full pardon from Louisiana’s governor or the governor in the state where you reside is the only way to reverse removal and/or inadmissibility.

How a Lawyer Can Help You Fight Deportation After Drug Charges

Experienced immigration attorneys can help you fight deportation after you’ve been charged or convicted with a drug-related crime. Some examples of strategies they might employ include:

  • Fight to get the charges dropped
  • Fight to suppress damning evidence
  • Fight to get the judge to dismiss charges
  • Appealing a conviction
  • Negotiating a plea to a lower charge that has fewer immigration consequences
  • Fight to dismiss the removal order in U.S. immigration court
  • Appeal a removal order to the Board of Immigration Appeals

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney After Drug Charges

If you’ve been convicted of drug-related charges, you face harsh consequences that can include deportation. Making a plea deal is a dangerous proposition if you want to stay in the United States. For the best chances of avoiding removal, you need to contact an experienced immigration attorney who can guide advocate for you and guide you through the criminal legal process. The skilled attorneys Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson have been advocating for non-U.S. citizens facing deportation for decades. Contact us today online or at 504-523-6496 to discuss your drug charges and learn the best course of action for your individual circumstances.

What are the first things you consider when you go to hire an attorney? If you are like most people, experience, expertise, and disciplinary history are at the top of the list. And those are all important points to consider when you choose an attorney. But what about communication? We’re not just talking about accessibility and responsiveness (although those are important too). How much thought do you put into what language your attorney speaks? Obviously, it’s important that your attorney is fluent in your native language, but what about other languages? There are many benefits to hiring a bilingual attorney. At Stephenson, Chavarri & Dawson, L.L.C., we have attorneys who are fluent in English, Spanish, and French.

Why do I need a bilingual attorney?

If your primary language is English, you might not see the value of hiring a bilingual attorney. In fact, unless you speak a language other than English, most people don’t think twice about what language their attorney speaks. After all, all communication will be in English, right? Maybe not. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, recent numbers show that over 66 million US residents speak a language other than English at home. Of those people, nearly 26 million say they speak English less than “very well.” That’s almost 8% of the US population. So how can a bilingual attorney help?

Witness testimony

Witness testimony is an important component of any personal injury or criminal defense case. Even in family law, witnesses can make a big difference in the outcome of your case.  What happens if your primary witness doesn’t speak English? Sure, you can hire a translator, but there are a couple downsides to that. Number one is cost. Every expert or professional you bring on to your case comes with a cost. If you have a bilingual attorney, that is one less cost you will have to incur. Another consideration is comfort. For whatever reason, the witness in your case may or may not feel comfortable talking to an attorney (or in front of a jury). If your attorney speaks the same language as the witness, they may be able to help the witness feel more comfortable.

Attorney-client communication

Maybe you’re looking for an attorney for your family member who doesn’t speak English. Trust and communication are extremely important in any type of legal matter. Whether you are planning your estate or filing a personal injury suit, you want to know that your attorney has your best interest at heart. At Stephenson, Chavarri & Dawson, L.L.C., our goal is to make you feel comfortable. We do our best to match incoming clients with the attorney who will best serve their communication needs.

Cultural awareness

Being bilingual isn’t just about knowing another language, it’s about understanding and respecting another culture. Every culture has its own beliefs and traditions. With any form of communication, it’s important to understand a person’s cultural beliefs. Different belief systems can make a big difference when it comes to estate planning, divorce and custody matters, and immigration laws.

How to find a qualified attorney

Beyond making sure that you and your attorney can have open communication (which is arguably the most important thing in any legal matter), there are other considerations you need to keep in mind when you choose an attorney. We touched on a few of these items earlier, but let’s take a look at what you should look for in an attorney and how you can find the right one for you:

  • Ask for personal recommendations: Your friends and family likely have a good sense of your personality type and your unique needs. Asking someone who has personal experience with an attorney is often the best way to find someone to work with. They’ll be able to give you insight into office practices, billing, and overall quality. At Stephenson, Chavarri & Dawson, L.L.C., we love it when a new client comes to us after being recommended by a friend.
  • Do your research: While personal recommendations are good, A: sometimes they are not reliable, and B: sometimes you won’t know anybody who has used an attorney. Whether you find your attorney through your best friend, or by searching Google, research is your friend. Sites like AVVO and Super Lawyers, provide honest reviews from former clients. Additionally, you should always check out your potential attorney’s disciplinary history. In Lousiana, you can look up an attorney’s status here.
  • Schedule a consultation: The best way to determine whether an attorney will be a good fit is to sit down and have a consultation. This is your opportunity to ask your potential attorney about their experience, philosophies, and billing structures. Don’t forget to ask about their availability and trial experience. It’s important that you feel comfortable with your attorney. Keep looking until you find the one that’s right for you.

Invest in your future

We cannot overstate how important it is to work with a competent attorney who you can trust. Legal matters can be complex and you want to hire someone who you know has your best interest in mind. In the same regard, it’s important to choose an attorney who can effectively argue your case and understands your individual needs. In some cases, choosing a bilingual attorney is a necessity. For others, it’s just a smart choice. The best legal strategy involves having the right tools and being able to communicate your needs.

Our office is located off of BUS 90, just blocks from the Mississippi River. Our physical address is 400 Poydras Street, Suite 1990 New Orleans, LA 70130. We are a multi-disciplinary firm with attorneys who work in family law, personal injury, immigration law, and other legal specialties. To learn more about our team or to schedule a consultation, contact our office at 504-523-6496 or fill out our online contact form to get started.

With the constantly changing immigration laws, many immigrants are feeling the stress and tension of what can happen to them during these confusing times. This is especially true for those immigrants that have been arrested for a crime. In these situations, it is crucial to understand what you and your family need to do and how a lawyer can help you when you encounter immigration enforcement, the police, or have to go through further legal proceedings.

What to Do After an Arrest

Getting arrested can be an incredibly stressful experience; however, as an immigrant, criminal activity can be even more worrisome as it can lead to the loss of your status and possible deportation. That’s why if you have been arrested for a crime and are a non-citizen immigrant, it is important to hire a lawyer as soon as possible. What’s even more vital is finding an experienced lawyer that knows not only criminal defense law, but also has a clear understanding of the immigration process. This way, they will be able to come up with a strategy to tackle your criminal convictions as well as your immigration issues, including how to best help your immigration status.  Having a legal team that can handle both immigration and criminal law cases can be extremely beneficial to your needs. The firm of Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson, LLC.  not only has many years of experience in both of these types of laws, but they also handle their cases with a unique approach. They provide their clients with solutions and strategies from specialized attorneys who work together to provide the most effective course of action to tackle a client’s criminal defense needs as well as their immigration needs.

Immigration Hold

In some instances, after you have been arrested for a crime, immigration officials can initiate an “immigration hold.”  If an immigration hold is put into place, the jail is notified to hold you for an additional 48 hours, even if you might have otherwise been released. At this point, federal officials can transfer you into federal custody for an alleged immigration violation, and removal proceedings may be initiated depending on the crime. Whether you are placed in immigration hold will be dependent on a lot of factors, including the area you are arrested in, how closely the local law enforcement works with ICE, and the degree of your crime. That is why if you have been arrested for any offense, it is imperative to hire an attorney who can help fight for your release, especially from immigration holds.

Crimes Resulting in Immigration Issues and Deportation

Immigrants need to know that certain crimes such as “aggravated felonies” can put the immigrant up against the harshest of penalties. As a result of these crimes, immigrants can face enhanced punishments, deportation without a removal hearing, permanent bar from future U.S. admission, and not be eligible for asylum, cancellation of removal, waivers of inadmissibility and voluntary departure.  What is even more critical is that an immigrant could still be deported if they serve no jail time or plead down to a misdemeanor from these crimes.  These type of crimes include:

  • Aggravated Felonies
    • Includes over thirty types of offenses including murder, rape, sexual abuse of a minor (including statutory rape), theft, filing a false tax return, simple battery, and failing to appear in court.
    • It is important to remember that Congress does not subtract from the list of aggravated felonies for immigration purposes; instead, the federal government is continually making the list longer.
  • Firearms Offenses
  • Drug Offenses
  • Crimes of Moral Turpitude (CMT)
    • These crimes often involve individuals engaging in morally reprehensible conduct with a willful, reckless, or malicious intent. These offenses can include crimes against the government, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, crimes against property, and sexual and family crimes.

How Can an Attorney Help?

It is always essential to seek the advice of an experienced attorney who has handled both criminal defense cases as well as immigration issues when you have been arrested for a crime. They may help you not only dispute the allegations that are against you but also find and claim any of the available relief.  As immigration laws can be extremely complex, any detail of your arrest can affect the classification of the crime you committed, which in turn will affect your defense options.  That is why hiring  an attorney can help you with the following:

  • Help you prepare a defense against any upcoming removal proceedings.
  • Help you to understand how a conviction or a specific sentence will affect your immigration status before you enter any guilty plea, decide to leave the United States, or apply for any immigration benefits.
  • Help you deal with the immigration consequences that continue after an individual has already served their sentence. Unless the case is not outright dismissed or stricken, a criminal conviction will exist under immigration law and can affect your naturalization process.

Why Call Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson, LLC?

The team at Stephenson, Chávarri, & Dawson LLC.,  understand how confusing and stressful this time may be in your life. That is why our primary goal is to help you get the best possible outcome, not only with your possible criminal conviction but with your immigration issues as well. Depending on the specific facts of your case, these outcomes can include:

  • Dismissal of the charges against you.
  • Getting a favorable plea agreement.
  • Receiving an acquittal at trial
  • Getting a reduction in your charges
  • Obtaining a reduced sentencing option.
  • Helping you understand how these crimes will affect your immigration status and choosing the strategy that can help both issues.
  • Help you dispute the allegations and fight for any immigration relief you may be entitled to.
  • Assist in obtaining permission for you to stay in the United States indefinitely or for some period of time.

Our New Orleans law firm is here to not only defend your rights but also to help minimize your confusion and worry. The attorneys at Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson, LLC. will make sure to thoroughly investigate your case and develop the most appropriately suited strategy for your situation, while also explaining all of your options so that you feel confident with the course of action that you choose to proceed with. Finally, our team is here to ensure that your case gets the attention and dedication that it deserves. That is why if you or an immigrant family member has been arrested in New Orleans, don’t wait any longer, call our office at 504-523-6496 today.

 

Sources:

Aggravated Felonies: An Overview. (2016). American Immigration Council. 

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS. Immigrants’ Rights. (N.D). ACLU. 

How to Help a Detainee in an Immigration Hold. (N.D.). All Law. 

The Immigration Hold Process After Jail. (N.D.). All Law. 

 

 

 

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