The DA and ICE – Part 1 (A summary)

This week was filled with news about the relationship between the District Attorney’s office (and law enforcement generally) and federal immigration agents.

First, on Wednesday, a man was arrested by ICE agents in the courthouse after they were tipped off to his presence by a Deputy District Attorney (“DDA” for short). The defendant had asked the court to have his DUI case dismissed because the DA’s office hadn’t pressed forward with it in over three years, and unfortunately common situation in our county. Looking at court records, I was surprised to find that there are over 2,500 DUI cases that have been open for over 2 years in our county, and that are potentially subject to being dismissed the same way!

By Friday, both Birgit and John issued statements supporting the current policy of having DDAs call ICE to check on people’s immigration status while investigating cases, and expressed no concern about the implications of having people arrested in the courthouse, ahead of their hearings. I made my position clear – the District Attorney’s office has to follow the law, and California law doesn’t allow this sort of behavior. If Californians want their DA’s to call ICE, they should talk to their legislators about changing the law. But the DA can’t ignore the law that exists today.

Then, late on Friday, the legislature passed SB 54, a bill that significantly restricts law enforcement’s ability to communicate and work with federal law enforcement agents. If Governor Brown signs the bill (as he is expected to do), all California law enforcement agencies, including the District Attorney’s office, will face sharp restrictions on their ability to respond to ICE’s questions, and will be effectively barred from checking the immigration status of nearly all suspects and defendants.

While there is certainly room for debate about whether the bill goes too far (as some people believe) or not far enough (as others argue), that is an argument for the legislature. A District Attorney’s job is to enforce the law as it exists, with some discretion allowed as to where to focus limited resources. Over the coming days, I will be posting a series of posts that explain why I think the current policy embraced by Birgit and John is wrong, and what I would propose instead.

-Patrick

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