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Court eyes bail use for immigrants

•  State Bar News     updated  2009/04/29 07:53


New Jersey's Supreme Court is considering a case that could change the way bail is set for immigrants charged with crimes while they face deportation.


Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi, with support from New Jersey's Attorney General, wants to close what he says is a loophole that allows immigrants to opt for getting deported instead of facing charges in local courts.

The high court heard arguments yesterday on the bail aspect of the case of Manuel Fajardo-Santos, an illegal immigrant from Honduras who was charged with sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl in Wharton last August.

Fajardo-Santos was originally held on $75,000 bail, but Bianchi had it raised to $300,000, after federal immigration authorities placed a detainer on him - an order releasing him into immigration custody if he made bail.

Bianchi feared an outcome in the Fajardo-Santos case similar to another Morris County sexual assault case in which the suspect was deported to Honduras before he could stand trial on molestation charges.

"It's not an issue of going after illegal immigrants," Bianchi said. "It's that you shouldn't be able to take advantage of the deportation issue."

Federal immigration officials have said in the past that they work well with local law enforcement and that the Morristown case was the result of miscommunication, not of a systemic problem.

Michael Fletcher, a lawyer for Fajardo-Santos, argued before the court yesterday that his client's illegal status, and the possible involvement of immigration authorities in his case, was known to the court that set his original bail. Fletcher argued the subsequent immigration detainer was not enough of a change in circumstance to justify such a large bail increase.


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