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Immigration Consequences of a DUI/DWI Conviction

Immigration Consequences of a DUI/DWI Conviction


The dangers and consequences of drunken driving are obviously serious, but the consequences of drunken driving convictions for non-citizens of the United States can be grave. In addition to the possibility of losing driving privileges and facing higher insurance premiums, drunken driving convictions may lead to inadmissibility or to deportation of the noncitizen from the United States, denial of adjustment during the green card process, or a finding of bad moral character at a naturalization interview.


By the amended Immigration and National Act (INA), noncitizens may be deported due to a conviction of a crime when it involves "moral turpitude" or is an "aggravated felony." An aggravated felony is a crime of violence in which the imprisonment term is at least one year. Until very recently, federal courts disagreed as to whether drunk driving under the influence (DUI) or drunk driving while intoxicated (DWI) were deportable, crimes of violence under the aggravated felony category. The United States Supreme Court resolved this issue in the 2004 case of Leocal v. Ashcroft, holding that DUI/DWI was not a "crime of violence," and, therefore, not an aggravated felony under the INA warranting deportation. This was the result despite the fact that the noncitizen was sentenced to imprisonment for more that 365 days.


Concomitantly, neither a misdemeanor nor a felony DUI/DWI resulting from multiple convictions is considered a crime involving moral turpitude under the INA.


Although a noncitizen who is charged and convicted of a DUI/DWI does not automatically face deportation, multiple convictions may lead to other serious consequences. For example, multiple convictions of DUI/DWI can show evidence of alcoholism, which is a ground of inadmissibility, and even removal, under the amended Immigration and National Act. Even if a noncitizen is able to avoid inadmissibility or removal resulting from DUI/DWI convictions, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services may consider any criminal conviction in making a determination regarding good moral character for purposes of an application for naturalization.


Lastly, in response to the Supreme Court's ruling in Leocal, the House and Senate passed bills in 2006 making a third drunk driving conviction a "crime of violence," and, therefore, an aggravated felony under the INA if a sentence of a year or more is imposed upon the offender. Although not made into law, it could be reintroduced, made into law, and even applied retroactively.

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