Friday, June 13, 2014

If you're a poor immigrant who's been arrested --- you're screwed!

That's what I learned at lunch today from a most amazing and dedicated defense investigator.

Private investigator Martin Rosales fights for "victims" of an unfair system.
"When I go to court for a client," the licensed private investigator said, "the prosecutors treat me like I'm a wetback. So you can imagine how much worse they treat defendants who don't speak the language and don't know the system."
Martin Rosales came to the United States some four decades ago from Durango, Mexico. He managed restaurants, dabbled in real estate, among other things, before he realized his purpose in life was to help the underdog.
He would find those underdogs in courtrooms and county jails. He discovered that people from other countries -- people who don't know the language and don't know the system here -- do not get the legal representation that U.S. born citizens enjoy.

And whether he gets paid or not, he is determined to come to their rescue.

I first met Martin and his 29-year-old son (and investigative partner) when they attended a daylong public records research seminar I conducted several months ago for Riverside County public defender investigators. He and his son were outsiders, but they both have a passion for learning, he said.
He showed up again in front of the L.A. County Registrar/Recorder/Clerk's office this morning. He was eager to learn more. He had read that I was conducting a day-long tour/lecture on how to locate, request and analyze records relating to campaign contributions, voter registration, real estate records and birth, marriage and death certificates.
"I figure that if I learn just one new thing," he said, "It's worth driving here from Riverside."
He's a sponge for information.
At lunch, I was able to learn more about that spark inside of him -- a spark that can erupt into a bonfire when he witnesses injustice. Before the meal ended, he had ignited a fire in me. When these things happen, there's no turning back for me.
Martin painted a disturbing picture of a story that plays out every day throughout Southern California. It involves undocumented mothers who have children who were born into U.S. citizenship. He says that they develop relationships with men and, somewhere along the way, learn through the grapevine that the unsuspecting "boyfriend" could become more than a lover -- he could be her ticket to obtaining her legal status. He could ensure that she gets her "green card." And with that green card, she can qualify form a plethora so social services for mothers and their children.
It's not marriage she's interested in -- it's getting the boyfriend arrested on charges of abusing her children. And it doesn't matter that it may not be true.
"She calls the police and tells them that her boyfriend is molesting her kids," Martin said. The police will arrest the boyfriend and prosecutors are eager to press charges.
That's when the nightmare begins for the boyfriend, he says.
"This is when they need good legal representation," Martin said, "but there's nobody helping them." Before long, he said, the boyfriend could easily go to prison for sixteen years to life. The already over-worked public defender, Martin says, is quick to advise his client to plead guilty to a single count of improperly touching each of the children and a single count of kidnapping a child. The kidnapping occurs, he says, when the boyfriend isolated a child without his or her permission.
"It's a trap," Martin says. "They don't tell the defendant that pleading guilty to the kidnapping charge will put them in prison for at least 16 years -- and maybe for the rest of his life." It's this "kidnapping enhancement" that forces the judge to give the defendant a long minimum sentence.
"The public defender should never advise the client to cop to a kidnapping charge," Martin said, "but they do. There's nobody there to tell them differently.
That's why Martin gets involved when he hears about someone facing such charges.
"I heard about a friend of a friend who had been held over for trial for molestation and kidnapping, so I went to the jail to tell him not to accept a plea before he gets a competent attorney." Then Martin showed up in court for a pretrial hearing.
"I couldn't believe what I watched! First his public defender tried to convince him to accept a plea offer from the district attorney. He refused," Martin said. "Then the public defender walk way to talk to the D.A. He turned to the translator and said, 'Make him accept the deal.'"
Martin says he watched the courtroom interpreter yell in Spanish at defendant to try to convince him to accept the plea bargain.
"He still refused to go along with it, so the judge scheduled another hearing, but said, 'This will be your last chance.'"
Martin says he was able to find a private attorney before that next hearing. She was able to negotiate a plea bargain that didn't include the kidnapping charge.
"He could have been in prison the rest of his life," Martin said. "He had to go to prison, but for a much shorter time."
Nowadays, Martin tries his best to convince attorneys to appoint him as the defense investigator -- but he insists on looking at the entire case file and at all of the discovery documents that the prosecutors and police investigators must share.
"I look at every detail of the case -- every piece of evidence," Martin said, "and I always find that the police made mistakes."
I heard many more examples at lunch today. I left there wanting to get involved. We talked about a publicity campaign in Spanish that can educate people before the police knock on their doors. We talked about creating an organization that can provide quality defense investigation -- whether or not the defendant can afford it.
We talked of bringing together others in the criminal justice community who know about the problem and are willing to do something to make change.
Maybe you will want to get involved?
Let me know.


Vicki Siedow said...

I'm in. Don, you know I do a ton of work on good causes, and have great resources. Martin, Contact me, Vicki Siedow 818-242-0130

Fran Tunno said...

That's horrible. How sad people feel forced to take reprehensible actions like this. Good for your friend for taking on these cases!

Fran Tunno said...

That's horrible. How sad people feel forced to take reprehensible actions like this. Good for your friend for taking on these cases!

Bev Feldman said...

Amazing story that you have uncovered, Don! Run with it!

Boyd Manes said...

Don, the implication of your story is that "Public Defenders' ARE EITHER IMPROPERLY TRAINED, LIARS, INCOMPETENT, AND/OR CORRUPT. some may be; I did run across a few scamps during my career.

Methinks this so called investigator is merely surfing for "more business". Let us not "throw out all the honest Public Defenders with the Investigators bath water! Mr. Boyd

Don Ray said...

Boyd, I have more respect for you than you can imagine. You're a retired federal law enforcement agent who has seen it all and done it all. I didn't mean to infer that all public defenders are any of the adjectives you pointed out. I worked for several years interviewing judges, district attorneys, defense attorneys, public defenders and more. Truth be told, I heard from more than a few public defenders who pointed out that their caseloads were astonishingly high. My opinion is that, given those caseloads and the miniscule budget public defenders and their investigators receive (I've trained scores of them), the best many poor, non-English-speaking defendants can expect is a plea bargain. The amount of time a PD has with the client can be less than five minutes. The deputy district attorneys and deputy city attorneys are quick to make plea bargain offers. Many times, the public defender has his or her hands tied and can only work with what's offered. When it comes to reading people's character, I believe I'm right up there with you. Maybe some day you can meet Martin and judge for yourself. Thanks, Boyd.