California immigrants accused of a crime may have to wait a lengthy period of time before receiving any legal assistance. Sometimes an immigrant could be deported before ever receiving the help they need and in other cases they may have been involved in a crime and could serve as a witness to help in a criminal trial. Either way, many of these people are deported by the United States government before they ever receive the chance to testify or defend their own innocence. Representation for detainees is a right, and now defense lawyers across the country are crying foul at what they perceive to be a grave injustice.
The attorneys claim that the deportation of witnesses is a troubling problem within the system. Many defendants are facing criminal charges serious enough to warrant a lengthy prison sentence, but the people who could help their defense have been removed from the country. They believe the government prosecutors hand pick those they want to use as witnesses in a case and deport the rest of them. One lawyer claimed that when they receive the case, the witnesses are gone, denying the ability to mount a defense and denying the right of representation for detainees.
Immigration authorities normally detain illegal immigrants and take their statements. The Justice Department then steps in and determines the ones who will face criminal charges and who will stay behind to act as a witness for the cases. Once they determine who will stay, only then are defense attorneys allowed in. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department stated that prosecutors have to weigh the ‘financial and physical burdens’ of detaining the witness and the ‘human cost’ to those who are held but are not facing charges.
This situation may be making headlines again, but it is a problem that has gone on for several years. Lawsuits have resulted against the government by companies who have been charged with immigration violations because the government deported anyone who could have helped in their defense. Representation for detainees in California and elsewhere is a right for undocumented immigrants in this country. Deporting potential witnesses involved in a crime or those who may have seen something effectively destroys the chance of a defense.
Source: USA Today, “Defense lawyers say some witnesses deported too soon,” Alan Gomez, Nov. 13, 2012