Under mounting pressure after a former prosecutor denounced what she called a ‘no-racism policy’, State’s Attorney Jack Campbell said he would review cases of undocumented immigrants who believed they had been denied a plea deal because of their race.
He also wants recommendations on how to handle undocumented immigrants without a valid driver’s license charged with traffic violations.
Campbell told the Tallahassee Democrat Thursday that a junior prosecutor misstated office policy when he wrote “Hispanic” rather than “undocumented immigrant” in a “cheat sheet” on how to handle plea bargains for people with a criminal history. Campbell said the prosecutor, who was reprimanded, left the document with other prosecutors when he left the Jefferson County office.
The story on Friday drew international attention to the state’s attorney’s policy of excluding offenders without immigration papers from pretrial diversion programs, where a conviction is avoided and a pathway to citizenship potentially blocked. .
The ACLU Florida condemned the memo as large-scale racial profiling that puts people at risk of having their lives changed forever for “minor infractions such as a traffic violation.” The document was revealed after a former prosecutor shared it with the Our Tallahassee website.
“How many Hispanics have been found guilty solely because of their Hispanic heritage? How long has this practice existed? said NR Hines, criminal justice policy strategist at the ACLU of Florida. “How many State’s Attorney’s offices in the Second Judicial Circuit have similar discriminatory practices in place?” Do other judicial circuits also have these practices in place? We call on the Second Circuit Judicial to answer these questions, as well as conduct a publicly available review of their staffing and charging protocols and their impact.
State’s attorney offers to review cases as he highlights what he calls the biggest problem
Campbell also said any resident of the six counties in the Second Judicial Circuit who believes they have been deprived of the opportunity to keep their record clear of a conviction by participating in a diversion program should contact their office.
“We’re going to take a look at it, and if they’ve been mishandled, we’re going to fix it as quickly and as powerfully as we can,” Campbell told WFSU radio.
He contributes to the confusion, anger and fear that greeted the release of the document with poor writing and an unfortunate error, and says there is a bigger issue at play.
“There is a population of people in this country who drive because they have to, who don’t have a valid driver’s license and who are legally unable to obtain one. How can I, as your state’s attorney, handle this issue? Campbell asked Friday morning.
Undocumented immigrants, regardless of race and ethnicity, are excluded from diversion programs because they do not have valid driver’s licenses, Campbell said.
Pass:The prosecutor’s memo said Hispanics get tougher plea deals; the state’s attorney calls it a mistake
The policy to exclude undocumented immigrants from diversion programs exists because Campbell said he cannot verify that they are who they say they are.
Campbell equates the lack of a driver’s license with the inability to obtain auto insurance, raising public safety concerns.
Florida does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive a driver’s license. Nineteen states do so if an applicant provides certain documents, such as a foreign birth certificate, foreign passport or consular card and proof of current residence in the state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Immigration lawyer and public defender push back on politics
Immigration lawyers and public defenders find Campbell’s explanation lacking.
Neil Rambana, a Tallahassee-based immigration attorney, said there’s nothing out of the ordinary about undocumented immigrants participating in diversion programs in other Florida circuits.
And, Jessica Yeary, the public defender for the Second Judicial Circuit, said she was unaware of a ban on undocumented immigrants in other circuits.
Yeary and Rambana said Campbell’s policy appears to violate Section 242 of Title 18 of the US Code of Law, which prohibits treating noncitizens more harshly than citizens.
Campbell counters that the section deals with “aliens,” registered with the federal government — not undocumented immigrants.
“I have someone who doesn’t have a passport number, who doesn’t have a Mexican driver’s license, who doesn’t have a Canadian driver’s license, who doesn’t have a foreign license,” Campbell said, about suspects arrested for a traffic violation.
Yeary said if Campbell was concerned about whether the suspect had a criminal history, the state’s Comprehensive Case Information Database would flag any previous encounters with law enforcement.
Call for a working group, survey set-up
Yeary wants an independent investigation into whether current Second Judicial Circuit proceedings call for harsher sentences based solely on the race of the suspect.
Rambana wants Campbell to create a task force consisting of an immigration attorney, a defense attorney and a Hispanic community leader to address how cases involving immigrants are handled.
Campbell agrees to find a solution to the problem at the heart of the leaked internal memo – trafficking cases involving undocumented immigrants driving without a license.
“We’re trying to put together a task force to come up with a workaround,” Campbell said.
“I didn’t become a prosecutor to give people a hard time because of not having a valid driver’s license, (but) for 20 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never been able to find a solution for these people,” Campbell said.
James Call is a member of the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @CallTallahasse