Maricopa County’s top prosecutor and sheriff got a legal victory Wednesday in their efforts to prosecute illegal immigrants on allegations they conspired to smuggle themselves.
County Superior Court Judge Thomas O’ Toole ruled that the state has enough evidence to show that the crime of conspiracy to commit human smuggling occurred in about 65 cases, said Barnett Lotstein, special assistant county attorney.
O’ Toole last month acquitted the first two defendants to go on trial on the conspiracy charges, ruling that prosecutors failed to provide a body of evidence that the crime of conspiracy occurred, even though the suspects confessed to it.
In Arizona, a body of evidence must accompany a person’s confession for there to be a conviction, Lotstein said.
O’ Toole agreed to hear evidence and make a ruling before the trial of the remaining defendants, so prosecutors could appeal in the event he ruled against the state, Barnett said.
O’ Toole wrote that the facts prosecutors presented in a hearing last week “are more detailed than those presented at the first trial.”
Lotstein said now that the judge has determined a crime did occur, the question is whether the defendants committed it.
Sheriff Joe Arpaio began arresting illegal immigrants on suspicion of conspiracy to smuggle March 2, and has taken more than 250 into custody.
County Attorney Andrew Thomas has agreed to seek the prosecutions, and both men have taken heat from illegal immigrant advocates.