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Should noncitizens get a jury trial for misdemeanors?

This question is one in the middle of a heated debate, particularly on the East Coast. There, a current case is working its way through the court systems. The state convicted a man of many assault and harassment crimes. His charges were misdemeanor offenses, but due to his immigration status could result in his deportation.

Generally, such offenses do not warrant a jury trial. However, since this man’s ability to remain in the country was on the line, he fought for the right to plead his case in front of a jury.

Initially, his fight was not successful. The lower courts held in favor of the state and agreed the man was guilty of the violations and that deportation was simply “a collateral consequence of conviction.” The man appealed and went to the highest court in the state.. In its holding, the court stated that although deportation was a collateral consequence of the conviction, it was also “practically inevitable when noncitizens face even class-B misdemeanors.” The majority held in favor of the man, and stated the consequence of deportation is not one for the courts to make, but Congress. As such, the opinion calls on Congress to address the issue and pass legislation to provide further guidance.

It is important to note the issue is far from settled. The state has also noted that it is currently considering appealing the decision to the Supreme Court of the United States.  

What can immigrants in similar situations learn from this case? Even minor offenses can lead to deportation. As such it is important to take any allegation of criminal wrongdoing seriously. Defenses are available that can help to better ensure your rights are protected. An attorney experienced in this niche area of the law can review your case and provide guidance on the best course of action.

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