Streamline Second Appearance: Pleading Guilty

Inmate transportation vehicle

Last week Mesilla Valley News reported on the initial hearings of Operation Streamline, the assembly line judicial approach to mass deportation where the accused – but not convicted – stand in front of a judge for 30 to 40 seconds apiece on average.

Today we look at the second appearance, entering a plea.

Misdemeanors and Felonies

Entering the United States without permission and bypassing an official Port of Entry is a misdemeanor the first time, punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Reentry, however, is a felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

It is important to note that in the absence of a grand jury indictment, these defendants have been accused of illegal entry but enjoy the same presumption of innocence as anyone on U.S. soil.

Sitting in front of Magistrate Judge Gregory B. Wormuth Friday morning, four women and 16 men rose to hear instructions through headphones from a translator.

All 20 would be pleading guilty to being here illegally.

Plea Bargains, Rights Waved

The judge explained their right to be heard by a district judge, the right to require the government to successfully obtain a grand jury indictment, and the right to a jury trial for the felony cases. He then explained rights to an attorney, to confront and cross-examine witnesses, to present evidence and compel witnesses on their behalf. He explained the right to testify or remain silent.

He explained that if they pleaded guilty, they would forfeit those rights, among others. It took four minutes and 10 seconds.

Pleas were entered in small groups with identical circumstances. Times averaged slightly, but the average was about 75 seconds per defendant.

Three women and two men. Next.

Seven men. The defense asked for continuances for two men. Five men remained. Next.

One woman and two men. Next.

Five men. Next.

Less than 40 minutes after the instructions were finished, so were 18 pleas and 2 continuances.

All misdemeanor cases were sentenced to time served with fines and supervised release waived. They would be deported, leaving behind a criminal record.

Since magistrate judges cannot sentence felonies, all those who just had just pleaded guilty to felonies would be taken back to their relative detention centers to await the availability of a district judge.

Indigenous Language Speakers a Different Story

To highlight the pace of Spanish speakers, after the courtroom had cleared, U.S. Marshals brought in two indigenous language speakers from Mexico. Their pleas would take more than 20 minutes with a translator via telephone.

Charged with the same crime, wearing the same uniforms and shackles, the two men did not speak Spanish and did not witness the fact-paced proceedings that came before them. There would be few rapid “Si” or “No” answers.

In addition to the direct answer to the question, there often would be context. When asked whether he wished to plead guilty and waive his rights, one man replied, “Yes, because I want to go home.”

When asked the same question as all the previous defendants, whether he was satisfied with his legal counsel, through the translator, one man said, “Yes, I love him. He helped me so much.”

Rather than just longer than a minute, the two indigenous language speakers averaged more than 10-minutes apiece.