NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York State’s highest court said on Tuesday that the U.S. Constitution guarantees jury trials to noncitizens charged with crimes that could subject them to deportation, in a divided ruling that prompted a call for the Supreme Court to weigh in.
The Court of Appeals rejected an argument by Bronx county prosecutors that deportation is merely a civil consequence of criminal convictions, and the Sixth Amendment did not require jury trials for defendants charged with minor yet deportable crimes.
“It is now beyond cavil that the penalty of deportation is among the most extreme and that it may, in some circumstances, rival incarceration in its loss of liberty,” Judge Leslie Stein wrote for a 5-2 majority.
The decision coincided with moves by U.S. President Donald Trump to speed up deportations and tighten U.S. borders. His administration was not involved in the case.
Within New York, the decision means noncitizens will be entitled to jury trials even if their alleged deportable crimes carry maximum prison terms of six months or less. You can access today’s 5-to-2 ruling of the New York State Court of Appeals at this link.
Writing for the majority, Judge Leslie Stein called it technically correct that deportation is a civil collateral consequence of a state conviction. She also noted, however, that deportation is practically inevitable when noncitizens face even class-B misdemeanors. “Detention — which closely resembles criminal incarceration — may last several days, or it may last months or years,” Stein wrote. “A noncitizen who is adjudicated deportable may first face additional detention, followed by the often-greater toll of separation from friends, family, home, and livelihood by actual forced removal from the country and return to a land to which that person may have no significant ties,” the 22-page opinion continues….
Judges Michael Garcia and Rowan Wilson dissented separately from the majority. In his dissent, Garcia wrote that the threat of deportation does not automatically transport petty crimes into serious ones covered by the Sixth Amendment, and that the U.S. Supreme Court must weigh in on the issue. Garcia also noted the majority’s ruling carves out special treatment for deportation and could also lead to a right to jury trials in other class-B misdemeanor cases, such as those that result in the loss of public housing….
Attorney Mark Zeno of the Center for Appellate Litigation, who represented Suazo, praised the ruling and noted that the D.C. Circuit also has upheld the right to jury trials for noncitizens facing deportation.
A spokeswoman for the Bronx District Attorney Office meanwhile said that the ruling conflicts with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. “We understand that while the Court of Appeals addresses the harsh realities presented by the possible consequence of deportation for noncitizens, its decision presents conflicts with existing Supreme Court precedent that must be resolved,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “This decision creates ramifications, including serious backlogs and disparities in the administration of justice, for the courts of this state. We are considering taking the case to the Supreme Court to address the crucial questions this decision presents.”