In Maryland, under the old law, a probation before judgment under Md. Crim Pro. 6-220 constituted a conviction for federal immigration and veterans services purposes. The law was intended to be an opportunity for individuals charged with low level offenses to rehabilitate and eventually expunge their records. However, for non-citizens sentenced under the old PBJ law, the sentence could lead to deportation because federal courts interpreted a PBJ as a conviction even though Maryland courts do not.
Maryland, recognizing the unintended consequences of the old PBJ law, recently enacted a significant amendment to its Criminal Procedure section, specifically 6-220(c), known as “PBJ-C,” which holds the promise of providing crucial relief and assistance to immigrants facing legal challenges. The law went into effect on October 1, 2023. In this blog post, we’ll explore the details of this new law and how it offers hope to immigrants and other federal benefits recipients in Maryland.
Before we dive into how PBJ-C can help immigrants, let’s first understand what it is. PBJ-C represents Md. Crim. Pro. 6-220(c), also titled “Probation Agreement Before Judgment.” It is an amendment to Maryland’s criminal procedure, which provides an alternative to traditional sentencing for certain criminal offenses. PBJ-C allows an individual to avoid a guilty finding on their record for federal purposes by successfully completing probation and fulfilling other court-ordered requirements.
How PBJ-C Helps Immigrants
- Avoiding Immigration Consequences: One of the most significant challenges immigrants face when charged with a crime is the potential impact on their immigration status. A criminal conviction, especially for certain offenses, can lead to deportation proceedings, visa denials, or ineligibility for future immigration benefits. Under the old PBJ bill in Maryland any factual finding under that subsection would count as a conviction for immigration purposes. PBJ-C allows immigrants to avoid these devastating consequences by preventing a formal conviction from being entered.
- Preserving Legal Status: For immigrants who have obtained legal status or are in the process of seeking it, a criminal conviction can jeopardize their status. PBJ-C can help preserve their legal standing in the U.S., which is especially important for those on temporary visas, green card holders, or individuals in the midst of immigration applications.
- Mitigating Deportation Risk: PBJ-C minimizes the risk of deportation by not triggering certain immigration consequences. This is a critical relief for immigrants who may be deemed deportable due to a criminal conviction. PBJ-C can be the difference between being allowed to remain in the U.S. with family and facing the heartbreaking prospect of removal.
- Eligibility for PBJ-C It’s important to note that not all crimes qualify for PBJ-C, and eligibility is determined on a case-by-case basis. Typically, non-violent and lower-level offenses are more likely to be considered for PBJ-C. The State’s Attorney’s office must bind itself to the agreement and the judge considers various factors, including the defendant’s criminal history, the nature of the offense, and whether the individual is a first-time offender in addition to the benefit to the public.
Maryland’s new PBJ-C is a beacon of hope for immigrants who have found themselves ensnared in the criminal justice system. By allowing individuals to avoid the consequences of a criminal conviction for federal immigration purposes, this amendment offers a lifeline to those seeking a better future in the United States. If you or a loved one find yourself charged with a crime, contact ENLawyers for a consultation.