|10-01-2006, 01:58 PM||#1|
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Join Date: Jan 2006
Deportations avoided via Ritter's plea deals
Can't believe I considered voting for this guy. I can't stand Both ways Bob, uggh, maybe Ill just write in this November.
The Denver district attorney's office under gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter approved plea bargains that prevented the deportation of illegal and legal immigrants charged with drug, assault and other crimes.
The office allowed defendants to plead guilty to trespassing on agricultural land instead of the crimes they actually were accused of 152 times from 1998 through 2004. Other counties - Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe - had only 75 convictions combined for the crime, according to court records.
Former Denver District Attorney Norm Early, who was Ritter's predecessor, laughed when he heard about the farm charges in urban Denver.
"I reviewed all my case dispositions, and I never remember that coming up," he said.
A review of 15 of the agricultural trespass cases in Denver showed that heroin and cocaine charges, theft of motor vehicles and domestic violence crimes - miles away from any farm or open land - were transformed into agricultural trespass.
"This plea agreement was reached with the the specific purpose of not pleading guilty to an offense that would subject (the defendant) to deportation proceedings," wrote a defense attorney in a motion filed in a Denver court Oct. 11, 2000.
The defendant, Ernesto Leon Reyes, was a resident alien who was initially charged with five drug counts related to his possession and intention to distribute 2,000 grams of methamphetamine.
If convicted of the drug charge, Reyes could have been deported after serving time. Instead, after pleading guilty to the trespass on agricultural land charge, Reyes received probation and stayed in the United States.
The review showed that illegal immigrants and a number of defendants whose immigration status was unclear entered into the same type of agreement.
Some were later charged with new crimes in Denver, indicating that they were never deported even after passing through Ritter's office.
Lynn Kimbrough, former spokeswoman for Ritter and current spokeswoman for Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, said pleas to agricultural trespass are intended to be used primarily in drug crimes for legal immigrants.
"Usually when there are proof problems in the case," she said. "And because we have to balance our trial resources."
Ritter said that his office handled 38,000 cases during that seven-year period and agricultural trespass pleas made up less than 1 percent of them.
He also said he insisted his office contact immigration officials whenever a defendant was an illegal immigrant or had questionable immigration status.
"It was up to the federal government to deport them," Ritter said.
He also noted that the scarce resources in his office were used to prosecute violent and serious offenders and sometimes, cases had evidentiary issues where a plea to a lesser charge was better than losing at trial.
"We had 5,500 cases a year and seven judges," he said. "Our priority was to try the most serious cases."
Some probations broken
Among some of the deals extended by Ritter's office to illegal immigrants over the six years reviewed:
Emmanuel Acosta-Martinez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, allegedly slapped his pregnant girlfriend in the face and repeatedly rammed his car into the back of another car in which his girlfriend was riding with another man in June 2001.
He was charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. He pleaded guilty to the agricultural trespass charge and received four years' probation and was ordered to domestic violence classes. He failed to comply with the terms of his probation and was later arrested in Arapahoe County on burglary charges.
Finally, after the Arapahoe County case was resolved, he was to be deported to Mexico in 2004.
Alfredo Gamboa-Torres, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was initially charged with two counts of drug possession with the intent to distribute. He pleaded guilty to agricultural trespass and received three years' probation and was not deported. At the time, he was already on probation for a DUI in Weld County.
Walter Ramo, an illegal immigrant from Honduras, was initially charged with the felony crime of sale and possession of heroin. He pleaded guilty to trespassing on farmland and received probation.
In a number of cases, defendants who entered into the agricultural trespass plea were born in other countries, but their immigration status is unclear.
In the case of Clemente Arambula, a 29-year-old from an unidentified country, he was charged with possession of a controlled substance but pleaded guilty to agricultural trespass. His court records note "no deportation."
Notes on status in files
Sometimes, police reports included the notation "refer to immigration"; in others,
"immigration consequences" are noted by the court.
Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman said officers generally make those notes when they arrest someone and find their documents altered, or if an interview determines there is a good chance they are in the U.S. illegally. Sometimes, he said, people admit to being in the country illegally.
In one case, a woman born in Mexico stabbed her husband in August 2002 and was charged with first-degree assault and menacing. She pleaded to the agricultural charge and received two years' probation.
A 24-year-old man born in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, was charged in 2004 with theft and pleaded guilty to the farm charge, according to documents filed in the case by the district attorney's office. A note in the file said "refer to immigration."
That apparently didn't happen, because a few months later he was arrested in a gang-related drive-by shooting and charged with attempted murder. He remains in a Colorado prison with a parole hearing set for December.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, who has hammered Ritter on plea- bargaining illegal immigrants in the past, continued to do so Friday.
"It appears that he intentionally used a loophole to avoid enforcing the law," campaign manager John Marshall said.
Taking the felony hit
A number of crimes can result in the deportation of an immigrant who is in the U.S. legally but is not a citizen. They run the gamut, including those involving controlled substances, firearms, high-speed flight, domestic violence and those of "moral turpitude."
The latter has no statutory definition but has evolved through case law to include theft crimes, fraud and those with malicious intent, said Jeff Joseph, a Denver immigration attorney.
Trespassing on agricultural land with the intent to commit a felony usually does not fall into any of the deportable offenses, primarily because plea agreements often cite eavesdropping or other similar crimes as part of the underlying felony charge, according to Joseph and a review of court records. Those charges don't involve moral turpitude.
Joseph said the "designer plea" of agricultural trespass is not bending the law in favor of immigrants. In drug cases, for instance, American citizens often have the ability to plea to a lesser charge such as a misdemeanor or receive a deferred judgment.
But even a misdemeanor drug charge subjects an immigrant to deportation and hurts them if they later try to legally immigrate. Many immigrants would rather plead guilty to the felony agricultural trespass charge.
"They take the felony hit because it doesn't cause an immigration problem," he said. "It preserves their ability to come back."