Can a California DUI Conviction Get You Deported?

Posted by Jon Ibanez on November 3rd, 2014

A California DUI conviction can have severe consequences. For non-citizens, however, the consequences of a California DUI conviction can be particularly devastating because it can lead to deportation from this country.   

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), specifically section 237, sets for the crimes for which a person can be deported. Although a California DUI is not specifically included in this section as a deportable offense, other categories of deportable offenses are listed which a California DUI conviction can fall under. Those categories include aggravated felonies, crimes of moral turpitude, and offenses involving controlled substances.

Prior to 2004, a DUI was considered a crime of violence and therefore deportable under the category of aggravated felonies. However, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Leocal v. Ashcroft, 543 U.S. 1, held that DUIs are not, without other aggravating circumstances, deportable. Specifically, the Court held that a crime of violence is one that includes a “higher degree of intent than negligent or merely accidental conduct.” A DUI, on the other hand, is a general intent crime because it involves negligent conduct rather than a specific intent to cause harm.

If a DUI is not a crime of violence, then may it be a crime of moral turpitude?

Although vague, the phrase “moral turpitude” has been interpreted as shocking the public conscience or acts that are considered wrong by society’s standards. In determining whether a crime shocks the public conscious, the court will look to aggravating circumstances such as a “guilty intent.” As I stated before, a simple DUI, by itself, does not involve any specific intent to cause harm or even commit a crime and therefore cannot be a crime of moral turpitude.

If, however, the DUI is coupled with another offense that does require a “guilty intent,” the DUI conviction could be considered a deportable offense. For example, if someone is arrested for driving under the influence while their license is suspended, it may be considered a crime of moral turpitude if the person knew their license was suspended and drove drunk anyways.

Lastly, a California DUI conviction can be deportable if it involves a controlled substance. As I’m sure you’re aware having read previous posts on this blog, a California DUI does not necessarily involve alcohol. A DUI can involve both legal and illegal drugs. However, being under the influence of only drugs listed in the Controlled Substances Act can cause a DUI to become a deportable offense. The drugs listed in the Controlled Substances act can be found at http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/orangebook/c_cs_alpha.pdf.

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