If you are an immigrant accused of committing a crime, it is crucial to understand what the prosecution can and cannot say about your immigration status during a trial. The Dallas Court of Appeals recently dealt with this issue in GUTIERREZ v. STATE.
In this case, Mr. Gutierrez was convicted of aggravated robbery. During the trial, the prosecution repeatedly mentioned Mr. Gutierrez’s immigration status as one of the factors behind the State’s decision to deny Mr. Gutierrez probation. Mr. Gutierrez’s attorney failed to object to these statements and Mr. Gutierrez appealed on the basis that he received ineffective counsel and his immigration status improperly prejudiced the jury.
In this case, Mr. Gutierrez and a partner robbed a convenience store. During the robbery, Mr. Gutierrez’s partner struck the clerk in the face and this led to both of them being charged with assault. Mr. Gutierrez turned himself in to the police and subsequently went to trial. One of the key issues during the trial revolved around Mr. Gutierrez’s eligibility for probation. During the probation hearing, the prosecution argued that Mr. Gutierrez had no right to probation because he was committing a crime by even being in the country at all. The prosecution also argued that Mr. Gutierrez’s immigration status constituted a “prior bad act” and that his status would prevent him from getting a job to pay for any damages.Can the Prosecution Use Immigration Status Against a Defendant?
In a trial involving an immigrant who currently resides in the United States, legally or otherwise, the prosecution cannot introduce evidence about the immigration status of the defendant unless the relevance outweighs any prejudice it might have on the trial. Basically this means the prosecution cannot use immigration status solely for the purpose of prejudicing the jury against the defendant.
In the Gutierrez case, the State incorrectly stated that the defendant’s presence and employment constituted crimes under Federal Law. The Supreme Court expressly stated that “a removable alien” working or presiding in the United States is not a crime. The Supreme Court also disallowed any penalization for “children of unauthorized aliens” because they are generally unable to go against their parents’ wishes. The prosecutor went on to argue that Mr. Gutierrez’s immigration status necessitated a harsher punishment simply because he is not an American citizen. The Court agreed that the assault was indeed a serious offense, but determined that the prosecution’s statements improperly prejudiced the jury and led to Mr. Gutierrez receiving a harsher sentence than his crime warranted. The Court also held that the counsel for Mr. Gutierrez had a duty to object to the prejudicial immigration comments and this contributed to the harshness of the sentence.
If you believe you have an issue with possible immigration status prejudice during trial, call Guest and Gray Law Firm’s defense team today. Guest and Gray Law Firm is a full service civil and criminal defense law firm serving the entire DFW Metroplex including Dallas, Kaufman, Rockwall and surrounding counties. Our main office is in Forney, Texas where we have served the community since 1967. We also have office locations in Rockwall and Kaufman, Texas. Our team of lawyers is ready to help with any concern you might have involving an immigration status issue.