New York

New York's Top Court Rules Immigrants Are Entitled to Jury Trials for Crimes that May Lead to Deportation

Many face getting tossed out of the country for minor crimes. This ruling could result in big changes.

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Immigration Law
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New York's top court has just ruled that an immigrant has a right to a jury trial for criminal charges that could lead to his or her deportation, even if those charges are classified as petty misdemeanors. This may well have some significant implications for immigration enforcement.

The case revolves around a defendant named Saylor Suazo, charged with assault and other crimes over an incident where he's accused of attacking and strangling the mother of his children, and then later with criminal contempt for ignoring a court order to stay away from her.

Prosecutors in Bronx dropped the charges down to misdemeanors with a potential three-month sentence. This meant Suazo faced a bench trial and couldn't demand to be heard by a jury under New York City's laws. But under federal law, due the nature of the charges, if he were convicted he would most certainly be deported back to his home country. So, given the seriousness of the consequences, does that mean he's entitled under the Sixth Amendment to a trial by jury?

In a 5-2 decision, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that he is, overturning a decision by a lower court. The conflict at the heart of the case is whether deportation should itself be seen under the law as a form of punishment or penalty or as a "collateral consequence" of a crime, as prosecutors argued.

The majority ruled that deportation was indeed, a type of punishment, and a severe one at that. Therefore those who face deportation as a result of a conviction are entitled to a jury trial. Writing for the majority, Judge Leslie Stein noted:

There can be no serious dispute that, if deemed a penalty for Sixth Amendment purposes, deportation or removal is a penalty of the utmost severity. The deportation process generally involves detention by federal immigration authorities until administrative or judicial review prompts either the detainee's release or an adjudication that the detainee is deportable. Detention—which closely resembles criminal incarceration—may last several days, or it may last months or years…A noncitizen who is adjudicated deportable may first face additional detention, followed by the often-greater toll of separation from friends, family, home, and livelihood by actual forced removal from the country and return to a land to which that person may have no significant ties.

To be very clear here, this ruling should not be interpreted to mean that the court believes Suazo couldn't or shouldn't be deported for his crimes. Rather, the court is saying that deportation is truly a type of penalty that includes lengthy incarceration and separation from family. Since this punishment is much more severe than what would normally happen for a petty crime conviction, Suazo is entitled to a jury trial under the Sixth Amendment.

Suazo is not exactly the best poster boy to show how "petty" crime punishments are anything but when you're an immigrant in the United States. The case, though, highlights a significant nightmarish component of how the criminal justice system works for immigrants. This gap in due process protections has created a regime in which any interactions with the criminal justice system can be fraught with perils for immigrants, even in minor cases. Cases that would result in a slap in a wrist for most Americans can demolish immigrant families, even those here legally.

We see many, many cases of immigration officials attempting to deport immigrants for minor crimes. The tactic is what helped give rise to "sanctuary cities" in the first place, where local authorities won't cooperate with immigration officials rooting out illegal immigrants unless they're convicted of serious crimes. The American Immigration Council noted in a report from 2015 that the people who are classified as "criminal aliens" for deportation are often not the threats most Americans assume them to be. One-third of them had committed crimes relating only to the immigration process itself (like not being here legally). Another 15 percent had committed only drug crimes that include simple possession, and another 15 percent committed criminal traffic offenses (though that can include some serious cases like hit-and-run convictions). Every year the federal government attempts to remove thousands of immigrants for what are often relatively minor crimes or misdemeanors that have light penalties.

And note the year on that report—2015. The statistics actually originate from fiscal year 2013. While President Trump's hostility toward immigration is notable, he's merely a symptom, not a cause of this problem. It's a problem that has been growing since the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which led to the push to root out and deport immigrants with criminal convictions. The same report by the American Immigration Council notes that this push to find people to deport prompts ethnic profiling and to head into heavily Latino communities to arrest as many people as possible for petty crimes (including citizens) to find candidates for deportation.

If prosecutors were required to hear each of these cases in front of a jury before they could deport somebody, this could potentially lead to a dramatic change in immigration enforcement for the better. There could potentially be less of an emphasis on trying to deport every potential case and a focus on those whose crimes indicate they are not good citizens. That might actually mean that defendants like Suazo actually wouldn't get a light touch given the details of the case, and it's easy to see the possibility of a jury agreeing with the prosecution here. But if police and prosecutors have to panel a jury for every criminal case that involves potential deportation, it may incentivize them to use more scalpels and fewer shotguns when dealing with immigrants who run afoul of the law.

That assumes this ruling stands. It seems very, very likely that the Supreme Court is going to be asked to weigh in on this. Indeed, dissenting Judge Michael Garcia notes that the Supreme Court probably did not consider immigration law in its previous precedents establishing lines between what counts as a "petty" crime that didn't mandate a jury trial and what counts as "serious." He says, in his dissent, that he wants the Supreme Court to take up this case. The second dissenting judge, Rowan Wilson, takes it even further, noting that deportations have always been handled as administrative hearings, and if the logic of this ruling holds true, the entire system by which illegal aliens are removed is itself unconstitutional due to the lack of jury trials.

Read the New York ruling here. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals in June came to a similar (and similarly divided) conclusion in June that immigrants facing deportations as a result of criminal convictions can demand jury trials in misdemeanor cases. Read here.

NEXT: Today's Supreme Court Oral Argument in Timbs v. Indiana Suggests Justices are Likely to Apply Excessive Fines Clause to State Asset Forfeitures

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  1. Don’t immigrants agree to abide by the laws in order to be allowed to live here?

    If so, then how is failing to do so not abrogating that agreement?

    And if you cannot maintain your end of the agreement does that not mean you lose out on the benefits of that agreement?

    By your actions you have nullified the contract so it ends, the benefits are lost.

    How, exactly, is that punishment?

    1. What does anything you said have to do with a jury trial vs. a bench trial?

      1. The lesson here is: Unless the immigrant agrees to deportation as part of a plea deal, prosecute them to the MAXIMUM extent of the law. Give them a choice between 5 years in prison or six months and deportation.

        1. And you think a jury is going to go for that?

    2. Even if you regard it as some manner of punishment, it’s not even that severe or unusual a punishment and, more importantly, not at all fucking equal. I’m sure there are a few million non-violent drug offenders (as well as others) who would leap at the opportunity to get out tomorrow even if it meant you let them out south of the border.

    3. Look at what LEO did in this case though. Here was a guy who was accused of committing a fairly serious crime, and prosecutors deliberately under-charged him in order to make it more difficult for him to defend himself in court and more likely that he will get deported. Regardless of what you think about immigration, that is some pretty slimy behavior.

      1. My best friend was an illegal sub-human who was living in the USA, but now he has been deported back to North Korea, where he is slowly being eaten alive by Kim Ill Dung-Bunger.

        My best friend’s crime? Blowing on a cheap plastic flute, w/o the blessings of doctor of doctorology!
        So be ye hereby and alwaysby warned!!!!

        To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ ? This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

        1. He’s back with the rest of the North Koreans, suffering the same fate they are.

          It’s not the job of US citizens, or the mandate of our federal government, to save everyone in the world from their shithole governments.

          That’s the NeoCon project. And their project makes more sense than turning the US into Mexico.

      2. That’s counter-intuitive. If they charged him with more serious crimes, it would only mean a jury trial. It would also mean potentially much more serious consequences AND deportation.

        Sounds like the prosecutor was cutting him a break in exchange for reducing his work load. Of course, this presumes that jury trials and bench trials are both “fair”.

        Reinstitute the harshest possible crimes and prosecute with vigor. When he gets years in prison and deportation, let him cry in his cell.

      3. You’re arguing a shit ton of facts but in evidence like usual. Often the liberal da will plead down to misdemeanor to avoid deportations. This happens in San Francisco often. Immigrants are treated better than citizens.

  2. charged with assault and other crimes over an incident where he’s accused of attacking and strangling the mother of his children, and then later with criminal contempt for ignoring a court order to stay away from her

    Of course Scott is one of those people who use electrocution when they mean shock and strangle when they mean choke. Even “criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation” is preferable to ‘strangled’.

  3. In before the comments completely missing the point of the post and accusing Scott of being an open borders advocate!

  4. The Sixth Amendment is quite clear on this. The very first words are, “In all criminal prosecutions…”. Note the word _all_. The real news to me is that NYC was previously ignoring the Sixth Amendment. Of course, New York’s hatred of freedom is well known so it’s hardly surprising.

    1. Where’s the magic line where it goes from being a 6th A violation to not being one?

      If the cops pull me out of my house for choking my wife and release me across county or state lines without a trial or with only a bench trial, have my 6A rights been violated? Will parking violations get juries?

      I’m against the bench trials. This appears to be the shittiest of shitty virtue signals in opposing them.

      1. Well here is a case of ‘prosecutorial discretion’ being abused in order to try to circumvent the Sixth Amendment and therefore corruptly generate their desired outcome. Seems to me, the real problem here is prosecutorial discretion.

        1. Yeah, I’m sure undercharging and potentially deporting the furriner was probably a token blemish on his otherwise spotless record of routinely trumping up charges to earn plea deals for more protracted sentences of natives (and others). Really out of character for a prosecutor to charge a suspect with a lesser crime that he actually still committed.

          Weird how when it suits your narrative, you become a ‘rule of law’ type.

          1. For crimes that violate the NAP, like actual assault, then yes of course I’m a ‘rule of law’ type, along with every other libertarian, even ones who advocate for things like privatized courts. A ‘crime’ like not having the correct permission slip from the government in order to be in the country doesn’t violate the NAP and shouldn’t be regarded as a crime. It’s not about narratives. It’s about consistency.

            And I am AGREEING with you that prosecutorial discretion *in general* is a problem, not just limited to cases where the prosecutor tries to evade the Sixth Amendment.

            Sheesh. Some times people can’t take yes for an answer.

            1. FFS why is it not clear as to whether Suazo is a green card immigrant or a mother fuckin illegal alien invader? No disrespect to extraterrestrial alien invaders who actually stimulate the economy as a net positive without perpetrating any crimes. Suazo is only referred to as an “immigrant” from what I see.

              This whole story is BS because Reason has told me how statistically better behaved and respectful the illegals are in comparison to natives that this has to be a 1 in a million occurrence and of extremely low priority as a consequence.

              Violating a court order and trying to choke a bitch out. Prolly in front of the kids because of court ordered restrictions on seeing the kids Suazo had to make that quality time count with meaningful relationship modeling… for the kids.

              Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the exile. Don’t do it.

              1. Someone missed the whole point of the article!

        2. The defendant waived his right to jury but wasn’t told of the deportation proceedings. The d.a. was not the one who reported the misdemeanor to federal authorities for status violations. It was found out by a means of feds seeking out Visa violations. By God Jeff, why do you pretend to be an expert when we both know you’re too fucking lazy to gather information.

          1. His posts are typically bereft of any credible facts, citations, or logical argument.

            Just feelz amd him whining like deportations are the worst thing in the world.

  5. Sounds like a good decision to me.

  6. So an immigrant is entitled to a jury trial on some charges, but a citizen would be forced into a bench trial on the exact same charges. Yeah, that sounds about right.

    Additionally, you can lose your right to own a gun if you are convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. That sounds like a “punishment” to me. I am sure the NY Court of Appeals will get right on that and make sure US citizens get a jury trial for that.

    1. #ForeignersFirst

  7. Hmm… according to the clear, plain, and unambiguous language of the Constitution, you get a jury trial in all criminal cases (and in all civil cases involving more than $20). The Constitution doesn’t repeat itself much, but the right to a jury in ALL criminal cases shows up in both Article 3 and in the Bill of Rights.

  8. “New York’s top court has just ruled that an immigrant has a right to a jury trial for criminal charges that could lead to his or her deportation, even if those charges are classified as petty misdemeanors. This may well have some significant implications for immigration enforcement.”

    Judicial authoritarians authoritarians rules that non-citizens have rights Americans don’t.

    #ForeignersFirst

    “There can be no serious dispute that, if deemed a penalty for Sixth Amendment purposes, deportation or removal is a penalty of the utmost severity. ”

    Not a penalty at all. It’s the removal of a privilege.

    Non-citizens do not have a vested right to living in the US. American citizens do.

  9. This one is literally a no-brainer. The Constitution does not grant anyone any rights whatsoever. Instead, it protects rights everyone already has by prohibiting certain actions by the government. It doesn’t matter if someone is a citizen, a resident alien or an illegal alien — if the government cannot lawfully do something that violates rights, then rights cannot be lawfully violated.

    1. It does matter if someone is a citizen, or whether they are here lawfully. That has always been very clear.

  10. Just one more solid reason for preventing illegal immigration through border enforcement – if they can’t set foot on American soil, there’ll be no need for idiotic rulings like this by leftist justices.

    1. Indeed. The problem would mostly go away.

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