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Immigration Status and Courtroom Testimony

Immigration officers are trolling courthouses across the country in search of undocumented immigrants, and this is having a profound effect on the justice system. In addition to courthouse arrests, the issue is affecting ongoing criminal trials. Last year, for example, in a domestic violence case in San Francisco, the mother of a domestic violence victim testified in court against the defendant. During her testimony, she was asked in front of the jury if her statements were designed to obtain a special visa reserved for victims and witnesses in domestic violence cases. While the judge ruled the statement inadmissible and told the jury not to consider it, the damage had been done, and the result was a hung jury. The woman refused to testify at the retrial, citing fear that her immigration status would again be raised in a public courtroom. In May of this year, California enactedSB 785. The new law requires an in camera (private) ruling from the judge on the issue of relevancy before a witness can be questioned concerning his or her immigration status in open court.

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