Does a non-citizen facing criminal charges have civil rights?

Almost every civil rights law in the United States applies to all people in US jurisdiction. If you are an alien, you should benefit from civil rights protections.

Even if someone accuses you of a crime — even if police or federal officers arrest you — you are still a person. This is the stance of the United States Constitution and many important court cases.

The law in practice

Unfortunately, there is more happening in many of these cases than what is in the constitution. To illustrate this, PBS News Hour reported about the difference between theory and practice in criminal law along the border.

In the real world, authorities deport many prospective immigrants who face criminal charges. This is partly the result of exceptions to civil rights protections. Here are some of the key factors:

  • The right to a free attorney only applies to criminal felonies, not misdemeanors or civil cases. Most deportations are misdemeanors.
  • There is an expedited deportation process that applies to most people near the border.
  • An extended border zone typically allows law enforcement officials to perform exhaustive searches.

The human element

Another important factor is your role. The more you know about the law in the United States, the more likely you are to avoid certain common mistakes that people make during an arrest or an interrogation.

For example, many people admit openly that they cross the border illegally. This type of personal confession is typically not mandatory — that is, you would probably not face penalties or consequences for remaining silent.

Drug trafficking, DWI and illegal reentry are all serious crimes of varying magnitudes. Law enforcement officers might try to convince you to give up your civil rights. This is probably not a legal requirement, and complying with certain requests could damage your case.