Synopsis: A recent ruling in New York state could have an impact on thousands of immigrants who had been facing deportation if convicted.
Immigrants Are Entitled To Jury Trials For Offenses Which Could Get Them Deported
Saylor Suazo, a Honduran immigrant, didn’t know what to expect when he was arrested by federal agents after leaving a Brooklyn courthouse recently.
Suazo had overstayed his visa and ICE was there to meet him.
Suazo lost his case and was facing deportation. He appealed and with his attorney won a court ruling which may change the way thousands of accused immigrants are dealt with each year.
As crime rates soared and overwhelmed New York’s courts in the 1970s, lawmakers in Albany looked for a way to hurry things along. The legislators thought that persons facing less than six months in jail would have their cases decided by a sole judge and not a jury.
That law had the unintended result of abridging immigrants of jury trials for crimes like harassment and prostitution — even though they are facing the Draconian punishment of deportation if convicted.
“The distinction is subjective, yet the difference is significant. A person is very likely to be convicted after a trial in front of a judge and more likely to be acquitted with a jury,” wrote Deanna Paul in the Washington Post.
“The fact for prosecutors in the age of “Making a Murderer” is that many jurors are suspicious of what law enforcement says. Trials are votes on the police,” Mark W. Zeno, a Columbia Law School professor, and Suazo’s appeals attorney said. “In New York City an individual is more likely to be acquitted of a misdemeanor if a jury votes on the verdict.”
In November 2018, the state’s highest court carved a niche out and made an exclusion to the law. The NY Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that non-citizens are approved for jury trials for deportable violations. The right to a jury trial, the court said, is protected by the federal Constitution’s Sixth Amendment which ensures the right to a trial by an unbiased jury.
The ruling is being cheered by immigrant advocates and civil rights attorneys.
“The court’s decision is giving all immigrants,” said Arkady Bukh, a noted Brooklyn criminal lawyer, “a legal avenue to fight charges which could lead to their removal from the nation.”
Analogous to Incarceration
Critics claim the ruling gives immigrants more rights than citizens and could lead to bigger backlogs in the already clogged court system.
The question of constitutional rights to a jury trial for those in the face of deportation for petty crimes is become more important as Trump’s hard-line immigration policies take effect.
“The issue may inevitably be one for the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Bukh.
A decision by the Supreme Court would affect eight states as well as New York City and the District of Columbia. In those jurisdictions crimes punishable by under six months in prison may only be tried by judges. Other states give defendants the right to ask for a jury trial regardless of the charges.
Judge Leslie E. Stein wrote in her judgement for the Court of Appeals majority that “deportation is a sufficiently harsh castigation to assure a jury trial as set by a standard decided by America’s Supreme Court in 1970.
The loss of liberty linked to deportation is “analogous to that inherent in incarceration,” Stein said.
Mark W. Zeno, a Columbia Law School professor who represented Mr. Suazo on appeal, said immigrants convicted of crimes are under increasing scrutiny from federal authorities “and ensuring that they’re fairly convicted is more important now than ever.”
Bukh added, “Deportation has become an integral result of a criminal conviction for immigrants because of the enforcement priorities of ICE in recent years.”