Last week, I was able to help a young man stay in the country rather than be deported to a land where he has few ties. The young man is officially a citizen of a foreign country. But he is practically an American, having grown up in Georgia and with all of his family here. Several months ago, he was stopped in a small Georgia town by a local police officer. The officer found marijuana in his car. And my client was charged with a felony. He hired a lawyer who incorrectly advised him that he could enter a plea under Georgia’s First Offender Act and he would not be deported. The advice was wrong. And when my client hired me, he was one roadblock or stop sign violation away from detention and deportation. I filed a habeas corpus petition and began a series of meetings with the prosecutor. The habeas was granted and we ultimately arrived at a disposition that will likely work for him, according to his immigration lawyer.
This case is a reminder of what it means to be convicted of a crime. These cases are about far more than repaying your debt to society. A criminal conviction is a debt on which many default. In today’s New York Times, there is an editorial that discusses labels and the harm they do to citizens who have been convicted of crimes. Labels like “felon” or “ex-con” last long after the sentence is complete. And the potential collateral consequences of a conviction, even for some misdemeanors, is staggering.
In my case, it took my efforts, the help of an immigration lawyer, a reasonable prosecutor, and a merciful judge to bLunt the impact on a young man and his family of a youthful mistake.