The election of Donald Trump will have sweeping consequences for everyone, but perhaps no group should be more concerned than non-citizens who have criminal records. Trump has already stated that he will target this group, and, as president, he now has the means to follow through on his promise.
Many of these non-citizens are legal permanent residents who have been here for a long time. In many cases they are productive members of the community, and have put their pasts behind them. They are part of the fabric of this country. But if they have an old criminal conviction, they should be concerned. It is very possible that a conviction for a relatively minor offense would qualify as a deportable offense, and that conviction could potentially lead to permanent removal from the U.S. Although this danger is not new – it existed under previous administrations – we have every reason to believe that the Trump administration will pursue removal with more aggression than we have ever seen before.
One of the ways to safeguard against removal is to proactively seek to have old convictions vacated and removed from one’s criminal record.
In the state of Maryland, the way to do this is through a “writ of error coram nobis.” This is an obscure legal proceeding that allows someone to vacate an old conviction that is causing adverse collateral consequences (such as removal). In order to prevail, the petitioner must, among other things, prove that the conviction was unconstitutional.
It is never easy to win a coram nobis proceeding, and sometimes the litigation can be lengthy. A good lawyer will scour the record to find an error in the old proceeding, and craft an argument that could lead to relief. Our firm has won a number of these proceedings in the past year, and we are also aware of other recent successes by other attorneys. It is an uphill battle to prevail on a coram nobis petition, but it is not impossible.
While the precise contours of coram nobis litigation vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, most states have some type of relief similar to what we have in Maryland. If you are reading this and feel like this may apply to you, do yourself a favor and contact an attorney.