New Law: Plea Bargains Must Try To Avoid Deportation

[By Marc Debbaudt]

In my continuing quest to educate the public about the legislature’s new sanctuary from safety philosophy, I turn my attention to a new law that goes into effect on January 1, 2016 that creates a double standard for United States citizens and non-citizens in this country (aka “illegal aliens” or “undocumented aliens”).

Governor Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 1343, authored by Assemblymember Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond).  This bill imposed a new requirement on prosecutor’s statewide, requiring prosecutors to structure pleas bargains that seek to avoid deportation of non-citizens who plead guilty to crimes committed in California.  Section 1016(3)(b) is added to the Penal Code, to read: “The prosecution, in the interests of justice, and in furtherance of the findings and declarations of Section 1016.2, shall consider the avoidance of adverse immigration consequences in the plea negotiation process as one factor in an effort to reach a just resolution.”

It’s outrageous — the Legislature has declared that prosecutors MUSTtry to avoid a plea agreement that would lead to deportation!  In other words, prosecutors should give illegal aliens a better plea deal than citizens in an effort to avoid deportation of an illegal alien who has committed a crime.  What possible justification can there be for the Legislature to elevate illegal aliens above citizens, that would mandate prosecutors to provide a better plea deal for an illegal alien than they would a citizen simply to have the illegal alien not face the deportation consequence of their criminal act?

Since state law will now mandate that prosecutors must try to avoid a plea deal that leads to deportation, will defense attorneys or Judges be allowed to make the DDA state what consideration they gave to immigration consequences when making a plea deal?  Are elected District Attorneys now going to have to put in writing office policies to implement this new law?  Will citizens who commit the same crime as illegal aliens be able to claim they are being denied equal protection under the law, that their status as citizen makes them subject to harsher punishment than an illegal alien?

The reality is that any policy that turns a blind eye to illegal activities – including those that make it easier for people who have been convicted of crimes to remain in this country illegally -is a bona fide threat to public safety.

This new law is similar to SB 1310 which Gov. Brown signed into law a year ago.  That bill reduced the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor from 365 days to 364 days. Why the one-day reduction?  Because under federal law a sentence of 365 days or more classifies a crime as an aggravated felony, triggering deportation hearings for noncitizen legal immigrants.

One must ask – what was the true motivation behind these two pieces of legislation?

Marc Debbaudt is President of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys. He can be contacted at mdebbaudt@laadda.com. The view and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of ADDA, which represents nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys.