Brooklyn and Baltimore prosecutors have instructed staff to consider alternative offenses and sentence modifications for illegal immigrants to protect them from possible deportation.
Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement that his new policy aims to “prevent collateral consequences of convictions” for illegal immigrants.
Gonzalez instructed his assistants to consider “alternative offenses the defendant can plead to as well as reasonable modifications to the sentence recommendation.”
The alternative offence should be similar in level and length of sentence to that offered to a citizen defendant, but the charge may be different, Gonzalez said.
“For example, a plea to a misdemeanor trespass may be offered when appropriate instead of a misdemeanor drug offense,” he said.
Art Arthur, a resident fellow in law and policy for the Center for Immigration Studies, said the policies discriminate against American citizens and lawful permanent residents.
“Essentially, it creates two sets of rules: one for those who are here legally and one for those those who are not,” Arthur said.
“I believe that that’s just wrong. A guiding principle of this country is that there is equal justice under law,” he said. “In essence, this sets up an unequal justice system.”
Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies and are often punished by penalties such as a fine, a short spell in jail, probation, or community service.
A misdemeanor drug possession charge could also mean mandated drug counseling or treatment.
“The consequences of a misdemeanor conviction can be dire,” said a 2009 report from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).
“A person convicted of a misdemeanor can be denied employment, denied access to a wide array of professional licenses, made ineligible for a student loan, or even expelled from school,” NACDL said. Access to public housing and food assistance can also be affected.
Gonzalez said the policy reaffirms his commitment to “equal and fair justice for all Brooklyn residents.”
Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has also instructed prosecutors to tread lightly when it comes to illegal immigrants who commit minor, non-violent crimes, according to a memo obtained by the Baltimore Sun.
But Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the special treatment for illegal immigrants “baffles” him.
“They [attorneys] advertise that they will charge a criminal alien with a lesser offense than presumably they would charge a United States citizen,” he said, in a speech on Long Island, N.Y., on April 29.
“It troubles me that we’ve seen district attorneys openly brag about not charging cases appropriately under the laws of our country, so it provides an opportunity for individuals not to be convicted of a crime that might lead to deportation,” he said.
Sessions said people who come to the United States illegally and commit crimes should be deported.