New York State’s Court of Appeals Finds That Immigrants Deserve Jury Trials, Regardless Of Charge
In a huge step forward for immigrants accused of crimes and threatened with deportation, on November 27, New York State’s Court of Appeals ruled that immigrants are entitled to jury trials, regardless of the severity of the crime with which they are charged, because the potential penalty of deportation is so severe. This is an important victory precisely because jury trials tend to be fairer.
The case stems from a defendant who was charged with several B misdemeanors that carried a maximum penalty of serving three months in jail, which, previously, in New York City, was not considered to be severe enough to warrant a jury trial (note, however, that, outside of New York City, defendants did always get jury trials when charged with B misdemeanors). The defendant successfully argued to the New York State’s Court of Appeals that he had the right to jury a trial under the Sixth Amendment because he would likely be deported if convicted of the B misdemeanors; where deportation was a serious enough penalty/outcome of the charges.
The Sixth Amendment Right to Jury Trial
The Sixth Amendment right to jury trial was made applicable to the states for “serious” offenses in order to ensure that a defendant was judged by a “jury of peers” if charged with a “serious” crime. However, the District Attorney in this case argued that, because deportation is a “collateral consequence” arising out of federal law that does not constitute a criminal penalty, it does not fall under the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial.
Ultimately, New York State’s Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that deportation can, in fact, be even “more injurious… than six months or less of imprisonment” and “there can be no dispute that… deportation or removal is a penalty of utmost severity” covered by the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. The Court rightly pointed out that the Sixth Amendment’s mandate reflects a “fundamental… reluctance to entrust plenary powers over the life and liberty of the citizen to one judge or a group of judges.”
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This is a huge decision that could effectively stymie the use of filing criminal charges against defendants in an effort to deport them without due process. The decision ultimately calls on the legislature to pass a law requiring jury trials in New York City for all defendants accused of misdemeanors, as is the case throughout the rest of the state.
It is important to note, however, that the District Attorney may seek to appeal this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court; therefore, it could be a short-lived victory.
New York criminal defense attorney Phillip J. Murphy has been representing clients accused of crime and facing deportation for more than 25 years. If you are facing criminal charges, contact our office for a free consultation to find out how we can help.