DECEMBER 03, 2009
Arizona courts must stop conducting large criminal hearings involving illegal immigrants arrested along the Mexican border because they violate federal rules, according to a decision issued this week by a notoriously liberal appellate court famous for getting overturned by the Supreme Court.
To ease the overwhelming load of annually trying tens of thousands of illegal immigrants caught entering the U.S., federal courts in the Grand Canyon State hold mass hearings for those arrested in high-traffic areas, known as zero tolerance zones. A 2005 program (Operation Streamline) implemented to help curb the illegal immigration crisis in border states calls for the criminal prosecution of undocumented aliens in federal courts.
The idea is to dramatically reduce and deter illegal immigration and secure the nation’s borders from a potential terrorist threat and the illegal entry of weapons and drugs, according to Border Patrol officials. Before Operation Streamline was implemented, illegal border crossers were simply routed to civil deportation proceedings with no further consequences. Under Operation Streamline they face incarceration and subsequent deportation.
Last year alone, Arizona held criminal immigration proceedings for 25,000 illegal aliens. To deal with the influx, overwhelmed courts routinely include 50 to 100 defendants at a time. But the San Francisco-based 9th Court of Appeals claims the procedures involving multiple defendants violate federal rules and must be stopped.
"No judge, however conscientious, could have possessed the ability to hear distinctly and accurately fifty voices at the same time," according to the 19-page decision which acknowledges the “understandable” shortcuts that border-state courts adopt to manage their huge caseloads.
Never the less, the shortcut defies Rule 11 which requires courts to address the defendant personally in open court in order to properly determine if the pleas are voluntary or forced. “We cannot permit this rule to be violated because it is too demanding for a district court to observe,” the three-judge panel wrote.
The Western appeals court, the largest of the nation’s 13 appellate courts, is well known for getting overturned by the Supreme Court more than any other court. This term alone, the High Court reversed 94% of its rulings in cases involving issues such as civil rights, prisoners’ rights and environmental protection.
Last year the 9th Circuit Court’s chief justice, Alex Kozinski, was embroiled in an embarrassing scandal for operating a publicly accessible website containing sexually explicit and offensive images. The judge’s explicit website became an issue in the obscenity trial of a Hollywood adult filmmaker that he presided over.
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