Anyone who has ever faced criminal charges knows how stressful they can be. Navigating the American justice system can be both confusing and frightening.

Often, criminal defendants elect to negotiate a plea deal with prosecutors. While judges must ultimately approve any agreement made, prosecutors and defendants typically enjoy wide latitude to negotiate charges, penalties and other matters. Still, all pleas must be voluntary, knowing and intelligent. If you are not a citizen of the United States, you must understand the immigration consequences of your plea before accepting it.

Immigration consequences 

Immigration Law in the United States does not look favorably on either illegal or immoral conduct. That is, if you have committed an aggravated felony or a crime involving moral turpitude, your legal permanent residency may be in jeopardy. The same is true if you have a visa or no immigration status whatsoever. Put simply, certain conduct may not only result in your incarceration, but it may also lead to removal from the United States.

Plea deals 

If you are afraid of going to prison for a long time, you may choose to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Before accepting a plea deal, though, you have a right to know about its immigration consequences. That is, if a plea may force you into removal proceedings, your criminal defense attorney must inform you of such. Also, because immigration law can be incredibly complex, your attorney must tell you if there is even a possibility of facing immigration consequences after a plea deal.

Appeals 

Pleas should both improve court efficiency and result in finality. Therefore, it is often difficult to appeal a plea deal. Still, because the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to effective legal counsel, you may be able to appeal a plea bargain if you did not understand the immigration consequences of the deal.

While a plea deal may seem to address your criminal matter, it may cause immigration problems. Because a final order of deportation may render you permanently ineligible to return to the United States, appealing a plea you did not understand fully may be the best strategy for remaining in the country.