Last November, the New York Court of Appeals issued a ruling that may have granted more rights to non-citizens than the State’s laws grant to Americans – namely, that in some cases, a non-citizen may be granted a trial by jury where a U.S. citizen would not.
According to the Washington Post, the case involved the rights of Saylor Suazo, an immigrant who had overstayed his visa. Suazo was facing up to six months in jail for misdemeanor domestic violence charges. Because domestic violence is considered a crime of “moral turpitude,” and because Suazo’s visa had expired, he could be deported back to his native Honduras.
In New York City, under “normal” circumstances, a person charged with a Class B misdemeanor (as Suazo was) would not be granted a jury trial. Indeed, Suazo was denied his request initially. However, on appeal, Suazo’s attorney argued “Deportation has become an inseparable consequence of a criminal conviction for immigrants because of the enforcement priorities of ICE in recent years.” Therefore, the attorney argued, under the Sixth Amendment, Suazo should be entitled to a jury trial, because deportation is a more serious penalty than six months in jail.
The New York State Court of Appeals sided with Suazo, and overturned his conviction. Because of that, he will be entitled to a jury trial, giving him a better chance at being acquitted; as his lawyer told the Post, “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.”
This sets a dangerous precedent
Deportation is a very serious consequence, especially for people who come from countries which are considered less safe than ours. That being said, New York has set a dangerous precedent here.
First, it has, by virtue of its ruling, granted more rights to a non-citizen than to a citizen. As former New York Court of Appeals judge Robert Smith explains, “The law kind of loses coherence when the court reaches a result like this. It seems to be a departure to the whole idea of ‘petty’ offenses to say that it’s ‘petty’ unless a noncitizen committed it. Deportation is a very serious thing. But there are a lot of serious things in the world. We don’t have jury trials for all of them.”
Second, it has opened up the possibility that “if [non-citizen] defendants ask for a jury trial, the criminal court judge will have to investigate the particular circumstances to determine whether they are entitled to one.”
Third, by granting Suazo his trial, the Court has ignored another crucial factor – that by overstaying his visa, Suazo had broken the law, and could be deported on those grounds alone.
Fourth, it has attempted – and perhaps succeeded – in circumventing federal statutes in regard to the penalties for breaking American laws, both criminal and immigration-related.
New York is not alone when it comes to granting stronger rights to non-citizens
In June, the D.C. Court of Appeals reached the same conclusion in a similar case. The defendant, Jean-Baptiste Bado, was convicted of misdemeanor sexual abuse of a minor in a bench trial (a trial with a judge, but without a jury). The Court found “that the penalty of deportation, when viewed together with a maximum period of incarceration that does not exceed six months, overcomes the presumption that the offense is petty and triggers the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury.” (Jean-Baptiste Bado v. United States)
This type of case has not yet reached the Maryland Courts, but it is safe to assume that it will. While most states allow for a jury trial regardless whether the defendant is facing incarceration, Maryland denies jury trials for criminal offenses which carry a jail sentence of 90 days or fewer. However, there are deportable offenses that, under Maryland law, would only carry a punishment of up to 90 days, so it may only be a matter of time before it happens.
If you are facing criminal charges, Carey Law Office offers thorough, experienced representation. To schedule a consultation time with a criminal defense lawyer form our firm, please call 301-464-2500 or fill out our contact form. We maintain offices in Bowie Crofton for your convenience.