Adrian likes to call Maricopa County Superior Court “an enormous machine of injustice.” I think that’s a perfect description.
To some extent, every Arizona court hurriedly shuffles criminal defendants through one after another, but Maricopa County is especially cold and impersonal. Each person being prosecuted is one little thousandth of a percent added or subtracted from some number Andrew Thomas hopes to brag about come next election. Unavailable deputy county attorneys and a crowded master calendar serve to ensure that no defendant’s voice gets heard prior to trial, if at all.
More than anyone else, illegal immigrants find themselves on the conveyor belt heading straight into the machine. When sheriff’s deputies pick up a van full of illegals driving through the county, the wheels of the machine begin turning immediately. They’re all arrested and interviewed. When I see a client has an immigration hold, I expect a perfect confession to appear somewhere in the state’s disclosure. It’s an amazing coincidence. They admit to the crime and to their unlawful status in this country.
They will all be held without bond, and every passenger will get charged with conspiracy to smuggle themselves or solicitation. The driver will get charged with smuggling humans. Every passenger will get a plea to a class 6 designated felony stipulating to probation (which in reality means deportation), a term of jail equal to time-served (usually a month or two), and sentencing at the time of the change of plea (so they can immediately be handed over the immigration authorities). Everyone will enter that plea at their first pretrial conference. Always. There will never be any different pleas.
The driver, unless he’s a real coyote, will get a plea to a class 5 felony with no agreements as to the sentence. The driver could therefore get six months to two and a half years in prison or probation with up to a year of jail. I know of only two judges who hear these cases. One always give probation (meaning the driver is treated more or less the same as the passengers), and the other always gives prison. Every driver will also enter his or her cookie-cutter plea at the first pretrial conference. Always. Again, there will never be any different pleas.
In-custody Arizona defendants can have a trial within five months if they do not waive time. Without an awfully compelling issue and a Simpson hearing, illegals will spend that time in jail. Whether the verdict is guilty or not guilty at trial, they’re going to be deported. The real question for them is how much time they want to spend in Sheriff Joe‘s terrible jails. If they want less jail, they must take the plea. If they want more, they can go to trial. There are no other variables for them to consider.
When a bunch of illegal aliens get picked up at the same time, they typically get set for initial pretrial conferences on the same calendar. Everyone in court gets to see the machine operating at full steam. One after another, defendants stand up, plead guilty, get sentenced, and sit back down. Before long, they’ll all find themselves back in Mexico, somewhere near the border. I bet they’d like to never think about our country again, but it might be a long way back home, especially if they come from a southern state.
A large number of cases rolling through the Maricopa County machine have serious constitutional problems. All kind of procedural rules may have been broken by poorly trained deputies. Defense attorneys tell me about fabricated confessions, exactly the same word-for-word by a dozen or more illegals caught at once. I hear about Hispanic people stopped randomly on the street by deputies hoping to find illegals. When those people can’t produce papers to prove their legal status, they’re taken in and police claim they were part of a larger group arrested around the same time. If true, that’s absolutely terrifying.
The machine of injustice pumps out impressive numbers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the county attorney could claim a 100% conviction rate in these cases, and most of the defendants never see a second hearing. The price tag for that kind of percentage is a system that treats guilty and innocent alike, ensuring the outcome is identical for each. Of course, it isn’t our fault. It’s just the machine doing its job.