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Will pre-trial diversion hurt my chances at citizenship?

| Apr 9, 2020 | Immigration Law

Being placed under arrest can be a scary moment for an immigrant in the United States. The federal government requires immigrants to be of good moral character in order to achieve citizenship, which means immigrants should respect and obey the laws of the U.S. while they live here. However, some immigrants face arrest and a possible conviction in court that could hurt their chances. 

To avoid a court conviction for a crime, you may seek a pre-trial diversion. This allows you to carry out a public service, attend a class, or carry out some duty in place of a conviction and sentence. However, you may still wonder if the government will count a pre-trial diversion against you when judging whether you have reached the good moral character requirement. 

Convictions and immigration law 

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, immigrants convicted of some criminal offenses may disqualify themselves from a finding of good moral character. The USCIS defines convictions as formal judgments of guilt entered by a court. Convictions may also happen if an immigrant pleads guilty, or if a judge imposes a penalty or punishment, or restricts the liberty of the immigrant. 

Pre-trial diversions 

However, a pre-trial diversion does not count under USCIS guidelines as a criminal conviction. In cases where individuals avoid a finding of guilt by a court or do not admit they have committed a crime, the federal government will not count them as convictions. So immigrants who attend some kind of intervention program, complete it, and have a court dismiss their charges should not face any problems with attaining a finding of good moral character. 

However, immigrants may run into some situations where the U.S. government might count a conviction, such as when a court convicts an immigrant but there is a deferral of adjudication. Conversely, the government might not count a conviction if the court fails to hand down a punishment even if the immigrant stands convicted. Also, a court may vacate an existing conviction because the ruling was not constitutionally sound or for statutory errors or errors that would affect a finding of guilt. If so, the government will not count the immigrant as convicted.