Immigration woes predicted for Bieber
LOS ANGELES — Justin Bieber’s court cases on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border might not just lead to more scrutiny by judges and prosecutors, but could also complicate the pop star’s jet-setting ways. Legal experts said the decision by Toronto authorities to charge Bieber with assault on Wednesday makes the singer’s legal situation more complicated and difficult to untangle. He is already facing a driving under the influence case in Florida and remains under investigation for felony vandalism in Los Angeles County. Andrew Flier, a criminal defence attorney who’s represented sports stars and actors, said immigration issues are likely Bieber’s biggest problem at this point. If the singer is convicted in one or both cases, he could receive additional scrutiny when travelling from his homeland, Canada to the United States, where Bieber currently lives. “Multiple convictions even on misdemeanours could be troublesome to the non-citizen,” Flier said. Bieber, 19, has pleaded not guilty to DUI, resisting arrest without violence and driving without a valid licence in the Miami case. A preliminary toxicology report released Thursday showed that Bieber tested positive for marijuana and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. The report shows no presence of other illicit drugs in Bieber’s system. Bieber told police after the arrest that he had been smoking marijuana and took a prescription drug. Henry Chang, a Toronto-based immigration lawyer registered in both the U.S. and Canada, said Bieber’s close ties to the States would not offer him much protection from laws that are both complex and vague. Even if the teen had secured a green card or other residency documents, Chang said, he could still find himself being turned away from the U.S. border next time he tries to cross. “These rules of inadmissibility apply to green card holders too, so it’s not like it’s going to protect him,” Chang said in a telephone interview. “If he’s a citizen he’s fine, but even a green card holder is subject to removal bars.” Bieber’s admissibility largely hinges on a principle known as moral turpitude, Chang said. The legal definition of this concept is vague, but the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeals describes such an offence as “an act that is per se morally reprehensible and intrinsically wrong,” he said. This means the severity of Bieber’s alleged transgressions on either side of the border is largely left up to the discretion of the official processing him at the time, Chang said. Bieber has not yet been convicted of any crimes, but even if convictions come later, the offences fall into a grey area that may allow him to regain entry to the country. The three charges he racked up last week in Florida wouldn’t sound many alarm bells, Chang said, since driving under the influence, resisting arrest or driving with an expired licence are not likely to qualify as crimes of moral turpitude. Nor, in Chang’s opinion, is the Toronto assault charge. Chang is more concerned about the positive toxicology report; those tests alone could make customs officials leery of allowing Bieber into the country to fulfil studio commitments or tour dates, adding a conviction isn’t necessary in such cases. “When you start getting into drug offences, all the ambiguity disappears,” he said. “Moral turpitude is irrelevant at that point.” The singer also remains under investigation for an egg-tossing incident that left his neighbour’s house with thousands of dollars in damage. If Bieber is charged in that case, a California judge may look at the singer more harshly in light of the Florida and Toronto cases, said Stan Goldman, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. “The fact that you’ve got three is a heck of a lot worse than one,” Goldman said. A judge might opt to keep Bieber on a long probation sentence to make sure he stays out of trouble, Goldman said, citing the case of Lindsay Lohan. The actress has been on some form of probation constantly since she took a plea agreement after being arrested twice for driving under the influence and drug possession in 2007. Numerous stars have had their international travel curtailed because of their legal trouble, and attorneys cited the United States and Canada as both viewing any drug offences harshly when deciding immigration issues. Japan has blocked the entry of the Rolling Stones over drug convictions and in 1980 deported Paul McCartney for marijuana possession at Narita International Airport. Michael Niren, immigration lawyer with Niren and Associates, highlighted the ambiguous nature of moral turpitude by speculating that the Toronto assault charge could be grounds for inadmissibility if Bieber was convicted. Either way, he said, the teen’s travel itineraries will have to factor in more time spent fielding questions from immigration officials. “I think he will have problems. I think he’s going to be sent to secondary inspection, he’s going to be asked a lot of questions, and it’s going to be at the discretion of the officer to say, ‘OK, I’m going to admit you,”’ Niren said. But Niren also offered hope to “Beliebers” south of the border. Customs officials also have the authority to allow Bieber conditional entry known as parole. Paroled admission to the U.S. usually involves certain conditions for a fixed time period, he said. Professional athletes and musicians have been able to secure such exemptions, but officials usually reserve them for people entering the country on compassionate grounds such as a funeral, he said. Meanwhile, a South Florida officer is under investigation for attempting to take a photograph of Bieber while he was in custody after his arrest there. Miami Beach police Sgt. Bobby Hernandez confirmed Friday that a female officer is being investigated for possible conduct unbecoming an officer. Punishments can range from a verbal reprimand to termination. The officer’s name wasn’t released. Police say the officer attempted to photograph Bieber while he was in a temporary holding cell, and a higher-ranking officer intervened to stop the attempt.
Justin Bieber appears in a south Florida courtroom via video link following his arrest on Jan. 23.