Charged with a Crime? Does Your Immigration Status Matter?
It’s more than a bit of a conundrum. You’ve been charged with a crime you didn’t commit. Of course, you’re concerned that you could be wrongfully convicted. However, your immigration status presents an even bigger problem as far as you’re concerned. You’re worried that you’ll either wind up in jail for a very long time – or back to a country where things are pretty scary.
This could be the story of a number of undocumented immigrants in the United States. In your case, your parents first brought you into the country with promises of a trip to Disneyland. Of course, you were excited with the prospect of seeing Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Meanwhile, it turns out that the Disney trip was just a cover story. Your parents were just concerned you might inadvertently tell strangers the real truth.
Despite what some think, many people who come into the United States are not necessarily hiding in trucks to come over the border. In fact, many enter on student visas or work visas and just never return to their native country. The goal is often to escape poverty or violence. The downside is that it means becoming part of an underground network of sorts.
Truth be told, you may have qualified for DACA, but you were afraid to register. You didn’t want to bring attention to yourself – but especially worried that registration could put your parents in jeopardy. Therefore, you kept your nose clean and don’t even do anything as minor as jaywalking.
You are stunned when the police pick you up on a criminal offense. You know you have no papers to produce, so you assume the charges are related to your undocumented status. That would be bad enough. To your horror, you learn that the police believe that you have committed a major crime. Clearly, it is a case of mistaken identity.
Immigration and Criminal Charges: Not Just Deportation
Understandably, your first instinct is the fear that you will be deported to the place where you were born. You know no one there and just about speak the native language. All things considered, you are an American in your head – you just don’t have the papers that say so.
However, deportation is just one of your concerns. Depending on the criminal charge, you could be looking at years and years of jail time. It is critical that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to assist you in proving your innocence. Actually – in this country, you are innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, your defense will be more about showing that the prosecution is wrong.
Then it dawns on you. The climate regarding immigration is not exactly an accepting one. What if the prosecutor tells the judge and jury that you are in the country illegally? How can you possibly receive a fair trial? Interestingly enough this very issue was the subject of a recent New Jersey Supreme Court Decision.
NJ Supreme Court Speaks
State v. Sanchez-Medina, 231 N.J. 452 was decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court in January of 2018. If you are wondering if your immigration status can be revealed during a criminal trial, this matter will interest you. The court used initials in the written opinion to protect the identities of the victims.
The case involves four separate incidences that occurred in 2012. R.D., the first woman stated that a man on a bicycle approached her from behind, tried to push her, and grabbed her buttocks. Less than two weeks later, the second victim, D.J. called the police because a man pinned her down, reached down her pants and inside her underwear.
On the following day, a third woman referred to as A.M. said she saw a “shadow of a guy” approach her from behind. He grabbed both her arms from behind and gripped them tightly.
A fourth woman said that she was assaulted in the same town where the last incident occurred. It was twenty minutes later when a man charged at A.B. from behind, grabbed her and sexually assaulted her.
Of the four women, R.D. was the only witness to identify Alexis Sanchez-Medina as her attacker. When she initially provided police with a description, R.D. indicated her assailant was a Hispanic man with a ponytail. Meanwhile, she also selected the defendant’s pictures from an array of six pictures and identified him in court.
However, the other three victims did not positively identify Sanchez-Medina. D.J. described her attacker as a “light-skinned African American or Hispanic male who wore his curly black hair in a ponytail.” Nevertheless, D.J. also admitted that she did not really get a look at the man who pinned her down. The other two women provided less descriptive information, although A.M. stated that her assailant had short curly hair.
At the Trial
Even though three of the four victims could not provide eyewitness testimony, Sanchez-Medina faced criminal complaints involving all four women. The defendant denied the allegations.
During the course of the trial, the prosecutor asked Sanchez-Medina if he was in the country legally. The defendant responded by admitting he was an undocumented immigrant. Was the question even permissible? Why did the jury need to know that the defendant was in the United States without proper documentation?
Ultimately, Sanchez-Medina was found guilty and appealed the matter. First, it was determined that the judge did not properly instruct the jury regarding the use of eyewitness testimony. However, there was also the issue of letting the jury know that the defendant was undocumented.
On appeal, the State admitted that it was improper to question Sanchez-Medina regarding his immigration status. All things considered, his legal status had nothing to do with whether or not he committed sexual assault. This amounted to denial of a fair trial. The criminal convictions were overturned and the matter was remanded to the lower court for a new trial.
Have you been accused of a crime and need a criminal defense attorney? At the Law Offices of Anthony Carbone, we are here to assist you. Contact us to put our decades of experience to work on your behalf.