Shoplifting is a serious criminal offense and a shoplifting conviction can have devastating immigration consequences. If you are not a United States citizen, there is no such thing as a “small” shoplifting conviction. Depending on the shoplifting charge and your personal situation, you may be deported for shoplifting.
A shoplifting conviction can lead to removal or deportation depending on your situation. A shoplifting conviction may also make you “inadmissible” to the United States, which means that if you leave the United States you won’t be able to return and you won’t be able to apply for a green card and permanent resident status. If you have been charged with shoplifting, you should consult with an immigration lawyer before entering into a plea agreement or going to trial.
How can a shoplifting conviction lead to deportation?
Almost all shoplifting convictions will be classified as a crime of moral turpitude or CMT under immigration law. However, what crimes qualify as a CMT is a very complicated area of immigration law and you should have an immigration lawyer review your case to verify if your charge falls within the definition of a CMT.
A few points to keep in mind:
- You may be deported for a CMT such as shoplifting if the crime was committed within five years after your admission into the United States and the crime was one for which a sentence of one year or more of confinement in prison may be imposed. This one year or more of confinement requirement refers to the possible sentence, not the actual sentence that you received. Keep in mind that in some states, even a conviction for petty larceny (such as you may be convicted of for shoplifting goods valued at less than $200) carries a possible sentence of 1 year in jail. You cannot simply rely on the fact that you were not sentenced to one year or more in jail — your immigration lawyer will need to review the criminal statute to determine the maximum possible sentence you could have received.
- Under immigration law, it doesn’t matter if the jail sentence was suspended or the conviction was later expunged. In addition, a second CMT conviction will make you deportable, no matter how long after you entered the United States your convictions occurred.
- If your shoplifting conviction is serious enough (such as receiving a 1 year jail sentence – even if it is suspended), it may be considered to be an aggravated felony for immigration purposes. This is true even if your conviction is considered to be a misdemeanor under state law. If your conviction is classified as an immigration aggravated felony, you will likely have no relief from deportation and likely will never be able to return to the United States in the future.
- If you entered the United States illegally or are out of status, your arrest for shoplifting will likely bring you to the attention of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Even if you are not convicted of shoplifting, you likely will face deportation proceedings based on your unlawful immigration status.
- There are other factors that may be important when determining whether your conviction will lead to deportation.
If you are placed in deportation proceedings as a result of a shoplifting conviction, you should discuss your options with an immigration lawyer. Depending on your situation, you may qualify for relief from removal.
Can a shoplifting conviction make you inadmissible to the United States?
Conviction or admission of a CMT such as shoplifting can also make you inadmissible to the United States. Inadmissibility plays a role when you apply for a visa, apply for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident status, apply for a change of nonimmigrant status or attempt to enter the United States.
You may qualify for an exception to inadmissibility due to a CMT conviction or admission if you were under age 18 when you committed the crime or if you meet the requirements for the petty offense exception. The petty offense exception may apply if the maximum penalty of your crime was one year of imprisonment and you were not sentenced to more than six months of imprisonment. After reviewing your case, your immigration lawyer will be able to tell you if you qualify for one of these exceptions or for some other form of relief from removal/deportation.
Your initial consultation with an immigration lawyer about your shoplifting case
You should make sure that you understand the possible immigration consequences of any plea agreement before you decide whether you want to accept a plea or go to trial. Your immigration lawyer will need time to evaluate your case, so you should consult with an immigration lawyer as early as possible after you have been arrested for shoplifting to make sure that your lawyer has the time needed to properly research your case before you have to make any important decisions. Make sure that you bring copies of any police reports or court documents to your initial meeting with your immigration lawyer. Your lawyer will need to review these documents in order to advise you of the immigration consequences that you may face.
You should also write down your entire immigration history for your immigration lawyer to review: when you first came to the United States, your immigration status when you came to the United States, your current immigration status, any immigration violations that you may have, the dates of each entry and departure from the United States, the immigration status of any relatives in the United States, and if any immigration papers have ever been filed for you in the past. This information is important for your immigration lawyer to know so that she can identify whether you may be deportable or inadmissible and what immigration options you may have.