Last year, Phoenix chief prosecutor Andrew Thomas theorized he could prosecute undocumented immigrants who paid to be smuggled into the U.S. through Arizona by applying conspiracy statutes to the state’s new human-smuggling law, says the Arizona Republic. Paying a human smuggler, or “coyote,” would mean conspiring with him. Despite protests from defense attorneys and Hispanic advocacy groups, the theory held up in court. But after 263 arrests and 121 convictions under what has come to known as the coyote law, no one has yet been convicted of conspiracy to commit human smuggling. No jury has even entertained the charge.
Two defendants have been acquitted, and other so-called conspirators had charges dropped or pleaded guilty to a lesser offense to get out of jail. Another 65 defendants still await trial; one is expected to enter a plea today. Still, Thomas claims “remendous success so far. At this point, frankly, I think that we are set up to finally obtain convictions in these cases. And I believe that is coming.”