01/28/2013 11:34:28 AM EST
Quick Plea Deals Can Grease Deportation Skids
"In 2010, many commonwealth’s attorneys across Virginia began automatically waiving jail time for mostly minor, misdemeanor offenses to save money. When prosecutors automatically waive jail time, judges no longer have to provide defendants with lawyers, potentially saving the state millions of dollars. So it was with Lopez, who entered the country illegally in 2005, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Neither he nor his family could be reached for further comment. Prince William Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert (D) had automatically waived all jail time for misdemeanor marijuana possession and a host of other charges. That made it possible for the General District Court judge in Lopez’s case to negotiate a guilty plea without appointing a lawyer: All Lopez had to do was pay a $186 fine and forfeit his driver’s license for six months. The Catch-22: Under federal law, [unauthorized] immigrants convicted of drug offenses are more likely to be deported, which is something defense lawyers are now required to explain. But Lopez didn’t have a lawyer, according to court records. Advocates contend that prosecutors and judges in Virginia are essentially setting deportation traps for [unauthorized] immigrants charged with minor crimes by offering plea deals after waiving jail time and declining to appoint defense counsel." - Washington Post, Jan. 27, 2013.