A Harris County District Attorney’s office proposal to bar illegal immigrants from receiving plea deals sparked questions Wednesday — including some from longtime prosecutors in the same office — about the legality and practicality of such a policy.
Four senior assistant district attorneys, speaking anonymously to protect their jobs, said Jim Leitner, District Attorney Pat Lykos’ first assistant, discussed the plan with about 50 prosecutors during a meeting last Friday. Under the plan, defendants in the country illegally will not be eligible for probation or deferred adjudication, including mandatory probations under state law. If the accused lies, he or she could be prosecuted for perjury.
The prosecutors also said plea papers are being redrafted for defendants to swear to their immigration status. If defendants refuse to sign, they will not be eligible for any plea bargains and their cases will be set for trial.
Lykos acknowledged that her office is examining policies surrounding illegal immigrants accused of committing crimes, but declined to comment on specifics.
One longtime prosecutor said the policy circumvents the intent of laws making probation the maximum punishment for some drug cases.
“I’m not a big fan of probation, but the law is the law, and I think we should follow the law,” the prosecutor said.
Mark Bennett, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said the idea may be unconstitutional.
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It’s grossly unfair and, in my view, it’s unconstitutional,” said Maria Jimenez, a longtime Houston immigration activist. “There’s a double standard being placed on people here without documents. If they commit a crime, they should be held accountable. If the offense merits offering probation or deferred adjudication, then that’s what should be weighed, not the legal status of the individual. Otherwise, its unequal treatment before the law.”