Joe Arpaio, Bill Montgomery Lose Again: Undocumented Worker Found "Not Guilty"
Miguel Angel Morales (right) and his fiancee Christine Romero
courtesy Christine Romero
Miguel Angel Morales was not supposed win Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Charged with ID theft and forgery after he was arrested in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's raid on Glendale's United Construction in September, Morales has spent more than six months in Arpaio's notorious jails, refusing to plead guilty while awaiting trial.
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Under the ruthless, racist system of charging undocumented workers maintained by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Morales was not eligible for bail.
He could have pleaded guilty and received three months, as almost all those caught in the Arpaio-Montgomery net choose to do.
But a class four felony conviction means deportation for the undocumented after they are turned over U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE lawyers have taught Montgomery's prosecutors what charges to hit the undocumented with, so as to ensure removal from the country.
Which is one reason workers without papers are charged with class four felonies, instead of the misdemeanor charges that underage college kids receive when caught buying beer with a fake ID.
Morales hung tough and put his trust in Ray Ybarra, a former federal public defender and civil rights activist, who is one of a handful of lawyers locally taking these cases, considered lost causes by many other attorneys.
Ybarra had planned to use the so-called "necessity defense," which holds that an offense is justified if, in the words of the statute,
"...a reasonable person was compelled to engage in the proscribed conduct and the person had no reasonable alternative to avoid imminent public or private injury greater than the injury that might reasonably result from the person's own conduct."
But just before trial, the judge prevented Ybarra from employing this legal strategy. The situation looked bleak, and he prepared Morales for the worst.
"The judge shot it down, and it was really like, `Oh, no,'" he told me recently. "Then the night before the trial, I'm reading through the discovery for like the 50th time, and I catch something in the very first page about the tip."
It seems the tipper who led the MCSO to investigate the employees of United had suggested that "other people in the company" were recruiting undocumented folks to work.
"So that became the case theory," said Ybarra. "The case theory now was: how do we know it was Miguel that provided these [false] documents [in order to work], and not someone else in the company that filled them out [with the wrong name]...and turned them in for him?"
With this new theory, Ybarra established reasonable doubt. Indeed, as he questioned the MCSO deputies, they all had to admit they had not investigated the possibility that someone at the company had been recruiting undocumented workers and providing them with false docs.
Morales' employment application said he had been referred to the company by a Ramon Q., whom Morales identified to Ybarra as his foreman.
But none of the detectives had a clue who Ramon Q. was, and they had never bothered to ask.
The employer took the stand. He praised Morales as a worker, and contradicted much of what the detectives had said.
The detectives had stated that what occurred on September 27, 2012 was not a "raid" and portrayed the search as calm and orderly.
"He talked about how his business was impacted, the hundreds of thousands of dollars that he lost," related Ybarra. "He said, `Oh, it was a raid, they came in with helicopters. It was chaos.'"
The employer said he never gave the MCSO consent to look at Morales' file. Then Ybarra asked him if he knew Ramon Q.
"He said, `Yeah, he was a supervisor.'
"I said, `Was?'
"He said, `Yeah, he quit yesterday,' and that was it."
Much of what the employer said on the stand, I recall him telling me when I spoke with him at a previous hearing on the same case. Needless to say, he was not a fan of Joe Arpaio or the MCSO.
The MCSO detectives' admission that they never investigated others at the company?
That's par for the course. In the case of Rafael Lavallade Gonzalez, who was nabbed during an August raid of a GNC warehouse, the lead detective admitted under questioning by defense attorney David Cutrer that the MCSO's Criminal Employment Squad never investigates employers. Supposedly, because it's too hard to make the case.
No doubt it is, when you do not try.
Since there is still an ICE hold on Morales, he has been transferred to ICE custody, according to Ybarra, who says he hopes to have his client out on an immigration bond soon.
I'm heartened by what Ybarra has accomplished. I know from talking with Morales' fiancee Christine Romero previously that her betrothed is a good man, who has been here for more than 10 years, and deserves a shot at remaining in the U.S.
A father of a U.S.-citizen child, Morales is a brave individual, who withstood more than a half year in Arpaio's gulags because he wants to stay in this country. His courage paid off.
"For a long time, people thought these cases were unwinnable," Ybarra told me. "Hopefully, this will encourage others to aggressively fight these cases, identify other clients who are willing to take that risk, and go to battle with them."
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