Car accidents may have immigration consequences.
In November of 2017, the United States Court of Appeal for the 9th Circuit in Leonardo Conejo-Bravo v Jefferson B. Sessions confirmed that the Petitioner's felony hit and run conviction under California Vehicle Code Section 20001(a) was a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT) that rendered him ineligible for cancellation of removal under 240A(b)(1) of the INA.
Petitioner was a Mexican national who entered the U.S. without inspection in 1995. He is married with three U.S. citizen children. In November of 2005, Petitioner was involved in a car accident that injured another person. Petitioner fled the scene without assisting the injured person or providing his contact or insurance information. He was sentenced to 180 days in country jail and three years' probation.
The issue in Removal Proceedings, after Petitioner was convicted of violating California Vehicle Code Section 20001(a), was whether Petitioner was eligible for cancellation of removal under INA 240a(b)(1). If Petitioner's felony hit and run conviction under Ca. Vehicle Code Section 20001(a) is a CIMT then Petitioner is ineligible for cancellation of removal.
California Penal Code 20001(a) is not categorically a CIMT as it is divisible into several crimes, some of which may involve moral turpitude and some of which may not. The Court therefore applied the modified categorical approach to determine if 20001(a), as it applied to the facts of the vehicle accident in this instance, was a CIMT.
Under this approach, the IJ looked to Petitioner's plea agreement at the criminal proceedings stage.
In the plea agreement the IJ read that Petitioner admitted to knowingly, willfully and unlawfully failing to stop his vehicle after he was involved in a traffic accident that injured another person. On the basis of the plea agreement, specifically the language provided therein, the IJ concluded that Petitioner's conviction was for a traditional hit and run and therefore qualified as a CIMT.
The 9th Circuit affirmed the IJ and BIA's ruling that Petitioner's section 20001(a) conviction qualifies as a CIMT. Petitioner was therefore ineligible for Cancellation of Removal.
What we take away from this case is the importance of speaking with a qualified Immigration Attorney, or the like, before you sign a plea agreement in a criminal proceeding. This is important because the plea agreement may result in Immigration consequences down the road as it can be used by the IJ in Removal Proceedings to determine whether your criminal conviction qualifies as a CIMT and therefore renders you ineligible for certain forms of relief from removal.
Lastly, if you are involved in a car accident please do not flee the scene of the accident. Fleeing the scene of the accident, particularly when the accident involves injury to another person, will, in all likelihood, render you ineligible for certain immigration benefits and/or avenues of relief from removal just as it did in the case above.
Understand the Consequences of your Actions, Be Safe and Know your Rights.