International Drug Trafficking and Extradition

How can I know if I am in trouble with the law for a drug-related issue?

There are numerous ways to confirm if a person is at risk of facing criminal prosecution in relation to drug trafficking. To do so, it is necessary for a lawyer to carry out a series of inquiries in accordance with the law in order to access crucial information which is then analyzed and verified with other available information in order to fully assess the situation.

In some cases, direct sources of information will surface and the lawyer will be able to contact the prosecutor or agents working on the case or related cases. By asking the correct questions, the lawyer can confirm the exact situation that the person in question is facing and define a defense strategy that will best serve his or her needs.

How do I know if I have a provisional arrest warrant (PAW)?

As a general rule, information regarding arrest warrants is not available to the public. However, by working with a lawyer with a well-established network of contacts, there are numerous ways to obtain such information if one wishes to resolve his or her problems.   

How can I confirm what charges and evidence exist against me?

If it is possible to locate an open case against a co-defendant in the U.S., a lawyer can obtain a significant amount of information regarding a case. For example, a copy of the charges can be very revealing, as it is possible to scrutinize all information and dates related to the case.

A lawyer can also consult with the defense lawyers of co-defendants and review the evidence of the case, which may include reports by agents, wiretapping reports and lab reports, all of which can provide valuable information on the client’s case.

Even if there are no pending charges against a fellow suspect, an experienced lawyer will be adept at using different channels to verify information on a client’s case. For instance, a lawyer who has good relationships with public prosecutors may be able to speak with them and inquire as to a particular defendant. This is only possible if a client wishes to resolve their situation.

What length of time could I be facing in jail?

In matters of a criminal nature, the United States legal system has made Federal Sentencing Guidelines available to federal judges. These advisory guidelines found in the Guidelines Manual serve as a reference for judges in determining sentencing, and do take into account the nature of the offense.  To fully understand the situation it is advisable to consult with a lawyer.

What is simplified extradition?

Simplified extradition is a legal process that allows an accused person incarcerated in a foreign country to renounce the defenses allowed by extradition in order to significantly accelerate the extradition process, avoiding a prolonged incarceration in their country.

Are there any alternatives to extradition?

Every case is unique and it is important to understand the different options available and the possible consequences. To avoid extradition, one may decide to voluntarily surrender and, in doing so, accept responsibility for his or her actions. This can have a favorable impact on the case, possibly preventing asset forfeiture and unwanted media attention in one’s home country.

What are the benefits of voluntary surrender?

There are a number of scenarios in which a person can voluntarily surrender using a lawyer as an intermediary in order to ensure favorable outcomes that defend his or her interests. By surrendering voluntarily, a person may be able to:

  • Avoid arrest
  • Prevent an extradition process
  • Avert unwanted media exposure for himself and his family resulting from arrest or extradition, both of which can damage one’s public image
  • Prevent asset forfeiture
  • Secure modification or dismissal of charges
  • Negotiate special conditions during imprisonment
  • Establish the possibility of being more favorably received by the prosecutor
Is it possible to voluntarily surrender after charges have been filed?

Yes, it is feasible to voluntarily surrender even if charges have already been filed. For example, if a client is in another country, it may be possible to arrange surrender to the United States federal authorities and avoid the extradition process.

What are the federal guidelines for sentencing?

In a sense, there are none, as federal guidelines for sentencing are of advisory, not mandatory, nature. For this reason, a well-constructed defense can have a significant impact on final sentencing. Knowing how to manage the process, what information to provide and how to present it, including demonstrating the positive character of the accused at the hands of a mitigation specialist, can have a decisive effect on the judge’s decision. 

Is it better to go to trial or plead guilty?

This is one of the most important decisions a client must take (with the advice of his or her lawyer) in a criminal case. The decision will depend on the strength or weakness of the Government’s case. In other words, can the Government prove its case?

A guilty plea provides the client certainty in knowing the length of the sentence he or she is facing. Sentencing Guidelines may also provide the defendant with a small reduction in the sentence for having assumed responsibility for the crime.

On the other hand, trial by jury obliges the Government to prove its case beyond all reasonable doubt. If the Government is unable do so, the jury will declare the defendant not guilty.

An experienced lawyer will help his or her client make a decision on how best to proceed. All cases are different and the benefits of going to court versus pleading guilty vary from one case to another.

Which countries have extradition treaties with the United States?

For a complete list of the countries which have extradition treaties with the United State, consult the State Department website.

What can happen to the family of someone accused of a drug trafficking-related crime?

The family of a defendant charged with a drug trafficking or money laundering crime will often have their visa denied or revoked if there is any evidence that they are benefitting from illegal money acquired from the proceeds of the crime.

There is no judicial review of this denial or revocation and while a waiver available, it is very difficult to obtain.

Asset Forfeiture

What is asset forfeiture?

Asset forfeiture is the legal process in which ownership of seized property transfers from its original owner to the Government. Asset forfeiture is a permanent, not a temporary, act. 

What property can be seized?

All private property, including real estate, bank accounts currency, boats and aircraft, is subject to civil forfeiture when the Government alleges that the property is connected with a criminal act.

What is the difference between seizure and asset forfeiture?

The step before asset forfeiture, seizure does not automatically mean that the property has been forfeited to the Government. However, property is often seized without notice to the owner as the Government fears it will be deposed of once knowledge of its seizure becomes known. While assets must be seized in a timely manor, there is still time to act before they are forfeited.

What should I do if my property has been seized?

If your property has been seized, it is vital to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible as there is still a possibility to act before forfeiture.  There are a number of actions a lawyer can take, however, forfeiture cases are governed by very strict timelines. If you fail to act quickly, you may end up waiving your right to make a claim.

What is the difference between civil forfeiture and criminal forfeiture?

Civil forfeiture occurs in cases in which there is no criminal prosecution. This typically happens when law enforcement seizes property, but chooses not to prosecute the owner, sometimes due to lack of evidence. It is not uncommon for prosecutors to file civil asset forfeiture cases, while declining to prosecute a person for an actual crime, as the evidentiary standards for civil cases are significantly lower. 

In criminal forfeiture only property that was used for or produced by criminal activity may be forfeited. For example, a boat used to import cocaine into the United States can be forfeited.

Is it possible to prevent asset forfeiture?

Civil asset forfeitures can be challenged in court and a good defense can make the difference between losing and keeping the asset, even affording the ability to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with the Government.

The most common defense in an asset forfeiture case is "Innocent Owner." This occurs when a person owns a piece of property that was used for crime or represents the proceeds of crime, but has no knowledge of the criminal conduct. 

There are a number of actions a lawyer can take, however, forfeiture cases are governed by very strict timelines. If you fail to act quickly, you may end up waiving your right to make a claim.

Removal / Deportation

How can I know if I am in danger of being removed from U.S.?

If you are a non-U.S. citizen and permanent resident and have committed a crime, you are in danger of being deported. To avoid removal, it is vital to investigate the possibility of cleaning your record. The risk for removal is highest when re-entering the country, requesting a change of immigration status, having contact with the judicial system or being the subject of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigation.

How can I clean my record to avoid removal?

If you are a permanent resident and have been convicted of a crime, you may be eligible to file a motion to vacate the conviction and ultimately find relief from removal. This will depend on the specifics of your case. Possible grounds for vacating or modifying a criminal conviction include affirmative misadvice or ineffective assistance of counsel, lack of factual basis for a conviction or newly discovered evidence. It is important to highlight that the type of crime you are convicted of impacts the impact possibility of changing the outcome.

Are people only deported for violent crimes and drug trafficking?

No. All crimes will subject you to removal. While aggravated felonies, such as money laundering and drug trafficking, carry harsh consequences in immigration court with absolutely no relief, in some cases it may be possible to vacate a conviction if the crime is of a less severe nature. These cases include crimes of moral turpitude (CMT) and, depending on the specifics of the case, both bond and relief in immigration court may be available. Some crimes, such as possession of under 30 grams of marijuana, are excludable.

If I have been convicted of a crime will I be deported?

Yes, if you have been convicted of a crime, you will be deported. The only way to prevent removal from the U.S. to vacate the conviction and/or negotiate a new charge. 

Is it possible to be deported for a criminal conviction from many years ago?

Yes, any permanent resident who has been convicted of a felony or two or more misdemeanors will be removed even if the crime and conviction took place many years ago. The risk of removal is highest when entering into the judicial system, re-entering the country or requesting a change of status, such as when applying for naturalization.

What is a plea colloquy?

A plea colloquy refers to the statements that a judge issues to a person prior to entering a guilty plea; in the case of a non-citizen, this includes knowledge the fact that the accused will be deported as a result of his or her guilty plea. As such, it is extremely difficult to vacate a motion, though in certain situations, it may be possible depending on the specifics of the case, for instance the type of advice given by lawyer regarding the immigration consequences of a guilty plea.

What can I do if I know I’m going to be removed from the U.S.?

Once you are in deportation proceedings, the only way to get relief from removal is to have your criminal conviction vacated.  It is important to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible.

Can I return to the U.S. after being removed?

While difficult, under some circumstances it is possible to get a case vacated after deportation if the basis was a criminal conviction. If a lawyer can vacate the conviction, the grounds for removal no longer exist and it is then possible to re-enter the United States. To do so, one must apply to return at the United States consulate in his or her country.

Can I be deported even if I have valid permission to stay in the country?

Yes, even though they are Green Card or visa holders with legal permission to stay the country, residents can be removed if they have been convicted of a crime.

Is it safe to travel abroad if I have been convicted of a crime?

No. Upon returning to the US, you are always subject to inspection by an immigration officer and your criminal record will be available for review. If you have been convicted of a crime, consult with a lawyer before traveling.

What happens to my family if I am removed from the U.S.?

Any family members who are legally in the country may remain in the U.S., provided they have not committed a crime.

What happens to my business and belongings if I am deported?

Businesses and personal belongings are not confiscated upon removal from the United States of America. However, the U.S. government provides no assistance or services and it is up to the person removed to organization a solution.

Is it possible to get relief from removal?

Under the right circumstances it can be possible to fight removal from the U.S. if its basis was a criminal conviction that can be vacated or modified to a charge that is non-deportable.  Possible grounds for vacating or modifying a criminal conviction include affirmative misadvice or ineffective assistance of counsel, lack of factual basis for a conviction or newly discovered evidence.   

What is affirmative misadvice?

Affirmative misadvise or ineffective assistance of counsel is, in essence, bad advice or erroneous information which a defendant relies on when deciding whether or not to plead guilty. For instance, if an attorney incorrectly informed you that you would not be deported if you pled guilty, it may serve as a legal argument as to why you took the guilty plea. As such, it may provide legal grounds for vacating or modifying a criminal conviction and ultimately secure relief from removal.

I was previously promised by a lawyer that I would not be deported despite a criminal conviction. Is this true?

No. If a lawyer promised you at the time of your plea that you would not be removed, this is no longer the case and may serve as legal grounds to vacate a charge.

Are political refugees with criminal convictions protected from deportation?

No. No foreign national, including those seeking asylum, is protected from deportation based on a criminal conviction.  If you are not a U.S. citizen and have a criminal conviction, you can and will be deported.

Is there any immunity or protection for certain nationalities?

No. No foreign national is protected from deportation based on a criminal conviction.  If a lawyer promised you in the past that you would not be removed due to your nationality, this is not the case and may be affirmative misadvice. If you are not a U.S. citizen and have a criminal conviction, you can and will be deported.

What are ICE agents and why are they arresting people?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has an Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) division, which is responsible for the identification, arrest and removal of foreign nationals who are in the country illegally or who pose a risk to national security or public safety.

Is Miami a sanctuary city?

Miami is not a sanctuary city.

What type of lawyer can help me if I am facing removal based on a criminal conviction?

While most immigration cases are best addressed by an immigration lawyer, those facing removal based on a criminal conviction should consult with a criminal lawyer who is an expert in the criminal courts. 

Are consultations with a lawyer always confidential?

Yes. All consultations with a lawyer are confidential.