The California Supreme Court ruled today that the rights of a Sonoma County man accused of attempted murder were not violated when the only witness who could have testified in his defense was deported.
Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote, “The federal government’s authority over immigration issues is supreme.”
The court ruled in San Francisco in the case of Armando Jacinto, who was accused of knifing a fellow customer during an argument over jukebox music in a Santa Rosa restaurant on May 12, 2006.
The victim, Victor Retana, said Jacinto was the person who stabbed him, and Sonoma County prosecutors charged Jacinto with attempted murder.
But Jacinto’s defense lawyer located another witness, Nicolas Esparza, who said he was 99 percent sure that the person who stabbed Retana was a woman who accompanied Jacinto.
At the time he was located, Esparza was in Sonoma County jail on a domestic violence charge. After he was released, authorities with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, deported him to Mexico for being an undocumented immigrant.
Jacinto claimed the charges against him should be dismissed because the county sheriff violated Esparza’s constitutional right to a fair trial by turning him over to the federal authorities.
But the state high court said Jacinto hadn’t proved that prosecutors had anything to do with the deportation.
The panel said Jacinto could argue that his rights were violated only if he could prove that misconduct by prosecutors led to the deportation.
“Faced with an immigration detainer from ICE, the sheriff and his employees properly complied…by releasing Esparza to ICE custody,” Werdegar wrote.
The court noted that Jacinto had other means available to try to secure Esparza’s testimony, such as taking Esparza’s deposition in jail or asking immigration authorities to hold him temporarily.
The panel upheld a state appeals court ruling reinstating the attempted murder charge, which had been dismissed by a trial judge.
Stephanie Clarke, a lawyer for Jacinto in the appeal, said, “The loss of that witness is a severe blow and there is a risk that an innocent man may be convicted.”