A proposal by Houston’s Harris County District Attorney's office to bar illegal immigrants from receiving plea deals prompted questions – including some from longtime prosecutors in the same office – about the legality and practicality of such a policy, the Houston Chronicle reports. Jim Leitner, District Attorney Pat Lykos' first assistant, discussed the plan with about 50 prosecutors last Friday. Under the plan, defendants in the country illegally will not be eligible for probation or deferred adjudication. If the accused lies, he or she could be prosecuted for perjury.
Prosecutors said plea papers are being redrafted for defendants to swear to their immigration status. If defendants refuse to sign, they will not be eligible for any plea bargains and their cases will be set for trial. One longtime prosecutor said the policy circumvents the intent of laws making probation the maximum punishment for some drug cases. “I'm not a big fan of probation, but the law is the law, and I think we should follow the law,” the prosecutor said. Mark Bennett, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said the idea may be unconstitutional. “There's a pretty good due process argument that it's not legal,” he said. “You're asking people to submit to other possible criminal and collateral consequences as a condition of a deal on one case.”