Joe Arpaio, Bill Montgomery Lose Again: Undocumented Worker Found "Not Guilty"
courtesy Christine Romero Miguel Angel Morales (right) and his fiancee Christine Romero
Miguel Angel Morales was not supposed win Wednesday in Maricopa County Superior Court.
Charged with ID theft and forgery after he was arrested in Sheriff Joe Arpaio's raid on Glendale's United Construction in September, Morales has spent more than six months in Arpaio's notorious jails, refusing to plead guilty while awaiting trial.
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Under the ruthless, racist system of charging undocumented workers maintained by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Morales was not eligible for bail.
He could have pleaded guilty and received three months, as almost all those caught in the Arpaio-Montgomery net choose to do.
But a class four felony conviction means deportation for the undocumented after they are turned over U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE lawyers have taught Montgomery's prosecutors what charges to hit the undocumented with, so as to ensure removal from the country.
Which is one reason workers without papers are charged with class four felonies, instead of the misdemeanor charges that underage college kids receive when caught buying beer with a fake ID.
Morales hung tough and put his trust in Ray Ybarra, a former federal public defender and civil rights activist, who is one of a handful of lawyers locally taking these cases, considered lost causes by many other attorneys.
Ybarra had planned to use the so-called "necessity defense," which holds that an offense is justified if, in the words of the statute,
"...a reasonable person was compelled to engage in the proscribed conduct and the person had no reasonable alternative to avoid imminent public or private injury greater than the injury that might reasonably result from the person's own conduct."
But just before trial, the judge prevented Ybarra from employing this legal strategy. The situation looked bleak, and he prepared Morales for the worst.
"The judge shot it down, and it was really like, `Oh, no,'" he told me recently. "Then the night before the trial, I'm reading through the discovery for like the 50th time, and I catch something in the very first page about the tip."
It seems the tipper who led the MCSO to investigate the employees of United had suggested that "other people in the company" were recruiting undocumented folks to work.
"So that became the case theory," said Ybarra. "The case theory now was: how do we know it was Miguel that provided these [false] documents [in order to work], and not someone else in the company that filled them out [with the wrong name]...and turned them in for him?"