Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said Wednesday he intends to keep prosecuting illegal immigrants despite a judge’s ruling that his first case under the new state antismuggling law — and perhaps future ones — lack the legally required evidence.
Thomas blasted the decision made a day earlier by Superior Court Judge Thomas O’Toole, who threw out the conspiracy charges that prosecutors had filed against two immigrants.
“Both defendants freely confessed to their crimes after being read their rights,” Thomas said.
He insisted that jurors would have convicted both men had the judge not ruled there was not enough legally admissible evidence.
Thomas was cheered that Javier Ruiz Lopez, charged with actually being the smuggler, was found guilty Wednesday by the same jury.
That, he said, made Ruiz the first person in the state — and perhaps the nation — to be convicted under a state anti-smuggling statute.
But Thomas, the only prosecutor in the state charging immigrants themselves under the year-old law, said he still believes it can be used against both smugglers and those simply being smuggled.
In dismissing the charges against the other two defendants, O’Toole said state law makes the confessions of people on charges of conspiracy legally irrelevant without independent proof of the crime. The judge said prosecutors did not provide that proof.
“We presented evidence from a Border Patrol agent who went into great detail into how the site there in which these illegal immigrants were arrested had all the trappings of a classic human smuggling operation,” he said. That included being in a two-van caravan with about 50 other immigrants on a rarely used dirt road.
He conceded that evidence is circumstantial but said that is all the law requires.
Thomas has to figure out how to prosecute several others arrested at the same time who refused to plead guilty to other charges. They also await trial before the same judge and on the same facts.
Thomas said prosecutors will seek a pretrial ruling from O’Toole as to whether there is enough independent evidence.
“That will save everybody a lot of time,” Thomas said.
It also would give Thomas a chance to go to the Court of Appeals before the trial starts if O’Toole rules against him.
Tuesday’s decision can’t be appealed because the charges were dropped after the trial started.