Lawsuit Challenging Denial Of Bail Rights For Immigrants Can Continue, Says Federal Court

Affiliate: ACLU of Arizona
December 10, 2008 12:00 am

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PHOENIX – A federal court ruled that a civil rights coalition can continue to challenge an Arizona state law that bars judges from considering bail for criminal defendants suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Defendants, which include Maricopa County, had asked the court to dismiss the case but the ruling permits the litigation to proceed. The court also granted the lawsuit class action status.

"This is a critical first step in restoring the U.S. Constitution's guarantee that every person accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty," said Cecillia Wang, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants' Rights Project and lead counsel on the case. "For hundreds of years, American courts have recognized that an accused person cannot be jailed without a fair hearing. A person cannot be kept in jail without a judge's decision that detention is necessary based on the actual facts in the case."

The ACLU, the ACLU of Arizona and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), with the law firm of Perkins Coie Brown & Bain, filed a lawsuit challenging the law, Proposition 100, in April 2008 in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. The law firm of Steptoe & Johnson has since joined as counsel. The lawsuit seeks to strike down Proposition 100, because it violates the U.S. Constitution and unjustly denies a select group of people a fair legal process.

In late 2006, Arizona passed Proposition 100, an unprecedented anti-immigrant law that singles out immigrants for unfair treatment in the legal justice system by imposing a blanket prohibition on bail. The law applies to most state felony charges in Arizona, including relatively minor crimes such as shoplifting and possessing a fake ID. Because of Proposition 100, countless individuals have been jailed even though they pose no risk of flight or danger to others, resulting in an enormous waste of Arizona taxpayers' money and the loss of needed jail space for persons posing actual threats.

"The judge couldn't dismiss such an important case about a law that clearly marks a dangerous departure from the long-established right to a fair legal process," said Kristina Campbell, staff attorney with MALDEF. "Every individual has the right to have his or her case decided on the merits, not because of membership in a disfavored group."

Daniel Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona, said, "Laws like Proposition 100 have no place in a free country. Once we let the government trample the fundamental rights of one vulnerable group, the erosion of all of our rights, not to mention our principles, can quickly follow."

Defendants in the case include Maricopa County, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and Maricopa County Superior Court Presiding Judge Barbara Rodriguez Mundell.

Lawyers from the civil rights coalition on the case include Wang, Mónica M. Ramírez and Robin Goldfaden of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project; Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona; Campbell and Cynthia Valenzuela of MALDEF; and cooperating counsel Steven Monde and Charles Blanchard of Perkins Coie Brown & Bain and David Bodney and Kevin Wein of Steptoe & Johnson.

The court's ruling and the civil rights coalition complaint can be found here:

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