Can I be deported for having stolen property in my possession?

Conviction of a theft offense can have dire consequences under U.S. immigration law, if it meets the definition of an "aggravated felony."

Question

I was just arrested and charged because the police found in my house some items that had been stolen by my roommate. The police said they believe me that I didn't steal the stuff, but are going after me anyway because some of it was in my room, and they think I was going to try to sell it. They say they’ll give me a good deal if I plead guilty. I’m tempted to agree because I just don’t have the time and money to fight it and think I’d probably lose if I did, but am hesitant due to the fact that I’m not a U.S. citizen and know that the authorities can deport people who have been convicted of certain crimes. Is this something they can deport me for? What should I do?

Answer

You’re right to suspect that this police matter could have implications for your immigration status. You could be deported, should you be convicted, for having committed an “aggravated felony” under U.S. immigration law.

It sounds from your description like they’re charging you with a theft offense that could be have dire consequences, as the law explicitly includes “receipt of stolen property” within the aggravated felony ground for removal (deportation) where the term of imprisonment at issue is one year or longer.

Crucially, even a suspended sentence - meaning you don’t serve any jail time, which could be tempting to you as a plea deal - can count as a term of imprisonment for a year or longer in the immigration-law context.

Whether a conviction in your case would in fact be grounds for deportation will turn on at least a couple factors: what the potential sentence for the specific state statute under which you’re charged is; and on how that statute defines the crime (an immigration attorney would need to see the actual charging documents to opine with certainty as to their import for immigration purposes).

Note that it’s of no help to you that the state statute under which you’re being charged might not define the crime as a “felony” - it can still be an “aggravated felony” for deportation purposes.

You should consult an immigration attorney who’s familiar with your state’s criminal laws before you decide how to respond to the charges (and before you talk further with the police or prosecutors). For more information generally on aggravated felonies, see What’s an Aggravated Felony According to U.S. Immigration Law?. To see just how expansive the definition of an “aggravated felony” is, check out Minor Crimes That Can Get You Deported as an Aggravated Felon.

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