When You Are Not Paris Hilton

I know. I know. I am sick of all the Paris to jail coverage. But it reminded me of a story. It should be a warning as to what happens when less famous defendants go to county jail.

When I was prosecuting in East Texas I received a phone call from the Mexican Consulate in Dallas. It seemed that a Mexican citizen had been in our county jail for the past 7 months. The Consulate had been contacted by the defendant’s family who were wondering about his whereabouts.

The Mexican National, lets call him Jose, had been arrested for DWI 7 months ago. Jose was not a citizen and had an immigration issue that led to an INS hold. Jose was arrested and booked in. But somehow Jose’s DWI offense report and other paperwork never made it to the DA’s office.

Jose was stuck in county jail purgatory. A hold by INS kept him from making bail. A pending charge kept INS from picking Jose up. And a lack of paperwork kept me from filing a charge. I had no knowledge of the case until the phone call.

DWI is a class B misdemeanor. The maximum punishment is 180 days in jail. Jose had already spent around 210. I immediately filed charges. An attorney was appointed and Jose plead guilty. The sentence; 180 days in jail with credit for 180 days served.

Why not just dismiss the case? Two reasons- 1. He was really really drunk if I remember correctly. 2. Guilty pleas limit potential lawsuits against the county.

I knew Jose was going to plead guilty and take the plea. He wanted to go back home. This is common among indigent defendants.

Any lawyer who has taken an appointed case will tell you that one reason people plead guilty is to get out jail NOW!

It creates a huge disparity in bargaining power when one party can incarcerate the other.

So while all the media attention is focused on Paris, just think of all the Jose’s around the country. Stuck in county jail because no one is watching.

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