Upset with judges they say ignore the law, state lawmakers voted Thursday to make it harder for those in this country illegally to get released on bail if they’re accused of certain crimes.
The legislation expands Proposition 100, a measure approved last year by voters that says bail must be denied to any illegal immigrant charged with a serious crime when there is strong proof or presumption that the person is guilty.
It spells out that a judge must believe only there is “probable cause’’ the person is here illegally. And it would require the court to consider any relevant information, including hearsay evidence, in making that determination.
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said SB1265 is necessary because judges are finding ways to rule there is not enough evidence to conclude someone is an illegal immigrant. He said there are cases where bail is set even when defendants admit they are here illegally.
The measure gained preliminary approval on a voice vote, despite objections of several legislators who said this could result in U.S. citizens being denied bail solely because they speak Spanish.
Pearce said he is unconcerned. He said the determination of legal status would come only after a court concludes there is reason to believe the person is guilty of the crime accused.
“Public safety is paramount,” he said. “You ought to be erring on the side of holding people without bond if they’re in this country illegally and they’ve committed serious felonies.”
Pearce said there is little problem at a defendant’s initial court appearance, when magistrates generally deny bail to those who apparently are here illegally.
But he said that, at least in Maricopa County, more than 85 percent of defendants initially denied bail based on Prop. 100 are allowed by a judge to post bond and go free.
Pearce said “common sense” can help determine whether the person is an illegal immigrant.
Rep. Peter Rios, D-Dudleyville, said he feared Pearce’s “common sense’’ approach is going to cast a wider net than just immigrants.
“We’re going to get some people caught up in that process that are U.S. citizens,” he warned. “Simply because they speak Spanish or simply because they have dark hair — they’re going to be detained and not eligible for bail.’’
He preferred an alternative requiring a “preponderance of evidence’’ that the person is in this country illegally. That is generally defined as a standard where there is more evidence one way than the other.