Why a plea deal could harm your immigration status

If you grew up watching U.S. detective shows, it is easy to misunderstand how the justice system works. You might think that if the police charge you with a crime, you will go to trial to fight the charges. Yet, recent research shows that is not how it works.

A 2018 report by the Pew Research Center found that 98% of people facing federal charges did not go to trial. 8% got their cases dismissed, the other 90% waived their right to trial and pleaded guilty to the charges. Does that mean 90% were guilty? Unlikely. People decline a trial because they figure it better to lose small than risk losing big.

The research found that state charges result in even fewer jury trials. In California, only 1.25% of defendants received a jury trial. Most state and federal charges end in plea deals.

How do plea deals work?

The prosecution team offers you a deal. Plead guilty to a specific charge in exchange for a more lenient sentence. If you refuse, they threaten a more severe sentence or threaten you with additional charges.

Plea deals can work to a defendant’s advantage, yet they often do not. You might think you can handle a few months in jail. Yet, if you are not a U.S. citizen pleading guilty could terminate your hopes of ever becoming one. By accepting a plea deal, you agree to a criminal record.

If you are in the U.S. without documentation, immigration authorities may use a criminal conviction as evidence to deport you. If you apply for citizenship, they may use a criminal record as a reason to turn you down. It makes it even more important to look at defense options if accused of a crime.