The ‘Assembly-Line Justice System’ of Federal Border Cases

The Guardian analyzed more than 3,500 criminal cases filed by border district federal prosecutors during a single week of the Trump administration’s tolerance policy and found thousands of hastily accepted guilty pleas.

In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told federal prosecutors along the U.S.-Mexico border “to adopt immediately a zero-tolerance policy” for violations of a federal law barring “improper entry” into the U.S. Over the next six weeks, 2,654 children were taken from their parents or guardians in order to fulfill the mandate that they be prosecuted for a criminal misdemeanor. As of September 27, 219 children whose parents had already been deported remained in government custody. Zero tolerance pushed serious fraud, drugs and weapons trafficking offences out of the courtroom to make way for the flood of people whose only crime was crossing the border, The Guardian reports. Between March and June, federal prosecutions referred by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the five districts along the south-west border rose by 74 percent, from 6,368 to 11,086.

The Guardian analyzed more than 3,500 criminal cases filed by border district federal prosecutors during a single week of the zero tolerance policy, May 13-19. The conclusion: Zero tolerance churned thousands of migrants through an assembly-line justice system with copy-and-paste criminal complaints converted to hastily accepted guilty pleas. Just 12.8 percent of the criminal cases filed by federal prosecutors were for serious crimes like corruption, fraud and trafficking. Sentence lengths for migrants charged with the same crimes varied dramatically depending on the state where they were arrested. Four months after thousands were charged, only 23 people continue to fight their cases. The overwhelming majority have pleaded guilty, and only one case has actually gone to trial, where the defendant was found guilty. “I don’t think this is really about justice anymore,” said Cesar Pierce, a New Mexico defense attorney who represented 18 cases in the sample. “Justice really factors very little into it.”

from https://thecrimereport.org