The Denver Post is running an article about defendants in criminal cases who were allowed to plead to a felony called “agricultural trespass” to avoid deportation while Bill Ritter was D.A.
The office allowed defendants to plead guilty to trespassing on agricultural land instead of the crimes they actually were accused of 152 times from 1998 through 2004. Other counties — Jefferson, Adams and Arapahoe — had only 75 convictions combined for the crime, according to court records.
Kudos to Ritter for approving these deals. The plea offers, which as Ritter notes, amounted to less than 1% of the 38,000 cases his office handled during the 7 year period, mostly were made to defendants who were legal residents of the U.S. Under federal immigration laws, any felony conviction for a drug offense is deemed an “aggravated felony” that requires deportation. The problem is not the plea deals. The problem is our inflexible, draconian immigration laws that prevent courts from taking into consideration individual circumstances of defendants who are in this country legally, many with families who work and pay taxes. Why should they be treated any more harshly than those who are born here? I’ve made these deals in many counties besides Denver over the years. In Boulder, for example, I had a client plead to the misdemeanor offense of abandoning a motor vehicle to avoid deportation in a felony drug case. District Attorneys cannot take every case to trial. Most are resolved by plea bargain. Many defendants here legally have been here for decades. Many have no family left in their country of origin and have never lived there. What kind of society separates people from their families and sentences them to a life of exile because they made a mistake? Someone needs to knock some sense into our overly xenophobic politicians.