There is an old saying that lawyers often repeat: “the man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.”  I do not wish to call anyone a fool, but individuals who represent themselves often make small problems much bigger. 

I have represented individuals in immigration court proceedings who pled guilty to criminal offenses of which they were not guilty.  I have represented individuals who, although they are guilty to one crime, they plead guilty to an offense that is more serious than the one for which they are actually, truthfully guilty.  Unfortunately, prosecutors often charge individuals with more serious crimes than are appropriate.  However, someone who represents him or herself will not know if he or she is being charged appropriately.

The opposite is also true.  I have seen many lawyers who are too afraid, too busy, too tired, or too lazy to fight for a client when they should.  I have often had to try to clean up the messes made by unethical or sloppy lawyers.  So then, if individuals representing themselves cause problems or make important mistakes—but so do lawyers—what can be done?

First, make sure you understand any and all advice you receive from a lawyer.  Make sure that he or she is willing to answer all of your questions.  And if you feel you are innocent of what you are charged with, do not plead guilty to anything. You will not get in any trouble if you want to fight your case through to a trial, and if you want to maintain your innocence.  A lawyer should help you understand if you are innocent or not.

Here are three things that can be done to fix problems with old cases:

  1. Appeal
  2. Re-open an old case
  3. Expunge “expurgar/eliminar/borrar” an old conviction.  

First, if you believe you or your lawyer has made a mistake, and only a few days have passed, you can appeal your conviction to an appeals court.  This is the first, best option for correcting mistakes.  

Second, if a long time has passed since you or a lawyer made a mistake in your case, you can attempt to re-open your case.  Since 2010, it has become much easier to do this, but you must still have a good reason.  The most common reason that I use to try to re-open an old case is where a former lawyer does not advise a defendant of the possible immigration consequences of a guilty plea to a criminal charge.  When this happens, it can be very possible to start the case over again right from where it was left.

Finally, you can attempt to erase an old criminal conviction por medio de una peticion de “expurgar.”  Unfortunately, this kind of action does not erase a conviction from a person’s immigration record, although it does erase it from most other records.  If you can erase an old conviction por medio de una petición de expurgar, it can make it easier for you to get a job without your criminal record affecting your application, or to join the military, or to go to college.  

Thanks for reading!