Immigration law very typically goes hand-in-hand with criminal law, given that many people are put into immigration proceedings due to contact with the criminal court system. As such, this month I am honored to feature criminal attorney extraordinaire, Danny Izquierdo, for our SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to sit with us, Danny. First off, please tell our readers about yourself. What sort of cases do you handle in your practice?
A: My pleasure, Elina. Thank you for having me. We are a criminal defense law firm. I’ve always been dedicated to representing good people that find themselves on the wrong side of the criminal justice system. I handle criminal cases in state and federal court. These cases include anything from DUI, drug trafficking, Medicare fraud and anything else in between.
Q: What prompted you to become an attorney?
A: I wanted to be in court fighting for people that were accused by the government of committing crimes. I know how much power the government has given its resources and the consequences of it are serious, so someone has to stand up to them and protect the accused. After all, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty and it’s guys like me that make sure they earn it and prove their case. As a child of Cuban immigrants, I know all too well the abuses of power and swift justice a government can impose on its people. America has the best criminal justice system in the world and I love defending and protecting the rights of the accused and holding the government to its burden.
Q: What sort of cases are you most passionate about?
A: I am passionate about all types of cases and will defend a Leaving the Scene of an Accident charge with the same passion as I would a trafficking cocaine case. Given the types of cases I’ve handled and the specialized knowledge required to properly defend them, DUI cases are a big part of my practice and something I truly enjoy doing. DUI laws are extremely strict and it’s truly the one crime that will affect people from all walks of life–drinking does not discriminate between prince and pauper. For more information, you can download a free copy of my book, A Six Pack of Questions that can cause a Hangover after a DUI Arrest by going to MiamiDUIBook.com.
Q: Do you find some of your clients are preoccupied with their immigration status in conjunction with criminal proceedings? If so, why so?
A: Absolutely. Being charged with a crime is unnerving and stressful enough without the pressure of not being a U.S. Citizen and having the fear of deportation. Representing someone who is not a citizen is extremely stressful for the attorney as well–assuming the attorney is doing their job and are aware of the immigration consequences to the various criminal charges. The problem is that oftentimes you are faced with a situation where you receive a great offer from the State Attorney to resolve a case but if you’re doing your job and know of the immigration consequences, you should not in good conscience, ethically advise your client to accept the plea agreement.
Q: How often does this occur?
A: This scenario plays out way too often for my clients. This doesn’t mean that they are bad people charged with what society would classify as the most heinous offenses. There are even misdemeanors that can subject someone to deportation.
Q: Should out of status individuals be afraid of appearing in criminal court?
A: It really depends on what you mean by afraid. If by afraid you mean that they will be picked up while attending court, that is definitely a possibility especially depending on where the case is taking place. Certain counties are notorious for “picking up” people whether it be in court or while they’re reporting for probation. The biggest fear comes with the unknown consequences and resolution of a criminal case for an out of status individual.
Q: What sort of immigration “issues” do you keep in mind when representing someone in criminal court proceedings?
A: Depending on what county the case is in, there are different issues to be considered. One of the most common issues and a constant hurdle for me is accepting PTI in Broward County. See, in Miami-Dade, PTI is a great resolution where an accused can take a class or two and can have their case dismissed after approximately six months of good behavior and successful completion of the requirements. However, in Broward, an accused must sign an admission of guilt/statement of responsibility admitting to the crime charged. This presents a huge issue for a non-citizen. Citizens do not have this issue because their case will be dismissed no matter what county and the admission will not play a role for them going forward. Some other issues that I must consider are length of sentencing (certain crimes have a maximum permissible sentence where deportation kicks in). Lastly, one of the biggest misconceptions is that if he withhold of adjudication. In Florida, you can accept a case and be found guilty but the judge (in most cases) has the discretion to withhold adjudication–meaning you are not convicted of the crime. For a citizen, this is a huge distinction once their case is resolved and they try to pick up the pieces. However, when looking at a withhold of adjudication from an immigration standpoint, it is still considered a conviction for immigration purposes.
Q: What are some sentencing alternatives that exist (instead of jail time)?
A: Sentencing alternatives can be a whole number of things. Sometimes you have to be willing to get creative and think outside the box as you work with a prosecutor to resolve a case. Anything that will not subject the accused to immigration consequences is fair game. Some of the options include diversion programs (such as PTI), treatment or rehab, conditional dismissals upon completion of requirements, community service or even changing the charges so that your client avoids immigration consequences.
Q: What is it like representing non-Citizens in criminal court given the current immigration climate in the U.S.?
A: This has become an even greater challenge for us in the past few years. There is an intense feeling of fear for the unknown that is much more noticeable and present in my clients that are not Citizens now than there was a few years ago. The reality is that immigration law has always been an ever-changing area of law, but that is much more accurate a statement these days. This state of flux and uncertainty has definitely been felt by those individuals we represent that are not Citizens. It is more important now—probably than at any other time—to make sure you are considering all the potential immigration consequences while fighting your criminal case.
Q: What can you do if an individual comes to you because they’ve already been convicted and later it’s a problem for their immigration status?
A: We may be able to explore the possibility of a motion to vacate under section 3.850 of the Florida Statutes. Depending on the circumstances of a given case, this may be an option for some and most likely their only option to undo the harm. It is imperative that someone in this position seek out counsel as soon as possible as their claim may not be permitted depending on the amount of time that has passed.
Q: Why is it important that a criminal attorney be aware of the immigration consequences of their clients’ sentencing and dispositions?
A: Not advising your client of immigration consequences could be a major ethics violation. It is our duty as criminal defense attorneys to make sure clients are advised of the potential immigration consequences of taking a certain plea. This oftentimes one of the most grounds for filing a motion to vacate.
Q: How can other criminal attorneys avoid this extreme liability?
A: The best way to avoid this extreme liability is to either learn immigration law (which I think is one of the most complicated and complex areas of law) or always make sure to align yourself with a knowledgeable immigration attorney so that your client is as advised as possible and nothing happens in their criminal case that will jeopardize their ability to stay in the U.S. Working hand-in-hand with an immigration attorney is imperative when you’re a criminal defense attorney.
Q: What do you like best about your work?
A: I love that I am helping to protect a system that I believe in very passionately and in doing so I am helping to ensure that it continues to be that way. Also, I realize that most people are good-natured and kind-hearted and simply made a mistake, were victim of a lapse in judgment or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Our criminal justice can be unfair and downright cruel; the consequences can be lethal and life-altering and the government has all the power against the accused. Standing up for them and fighting to make sure that, if the government is going to take them down and ruin their lives, they better earn it as the Constitution demands. Again, as a child of Cuban immigrants, I have seen firsthand what an all too powerful government can do its citizenry.
Q: How can our subscribers reach you for a consultation?
A: Subscribers can contact me anytime to discuss a criminal issue or to seek a consultation for a pending case. It is very important to remember that an accused has the right to remain silent in the face of police questioning and they should be aware so that they can exercise that right as well as the right to have an attorney present during questioning. Should you need to get a hold of me, you can call: (305)707-7345. You can also email me at email@example.com or visit my website, www.izlegal.com, and reach us by submitting a form or engaging in live chat with a representative.
Thank you, Danny, for sharing your knowledge with our subscribers. This is Elina signing off until next month’s spotlight interview. Have a great month!