Appeals court strikes down state’s 'Driving While Hispanic' law
Citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision voiding a similar law passed in Arizona, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal struck down a Louisiana statute known as the “Driving Without Lawful Presence” law — one derided by critics as the “Driving While Hispanic” law.
The challenge to the law, known officially as Louisiana Revised Statute 14:100.13, was made by an attorney in the 15th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office on behalf of a Honduran man who was arrested in Lafayette, jailed for three months awaiting trial and eventually pleaded no contest to violating the law. District Judge Kristian Earles presided over adjudication of the case against Alexis Sarrabea.
The law in question states:
A. No alien student or nonresident alien shall operate a motor vehicle in the state without documentation demonstrating that the person is lawfully present in the United States.
B. Upon arrest of a person for operating a vehicle without lawful presence in the United States, law enforcement officials shall seize the driver’s license and immediately surrender such license to the office of motor vehicles for cancellation and shall immediately notify the INS of the name and location of the person.
C. Whoever commits the crime of driving without lawful presence in the United States shall be fined not more than one thousand dollars, imprisoned for not more than one year, with or without hard labor, or both.
The 3rd Circuit effectively voided the state law through Wednesday’s ruling, pending an appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court. In its decision the 3rd Circuit writes:
We believe Defendant’s focus on the Supreme Court‘s ruling in Arizona regarding section 3 of the Arizona law is well-placed. We could find no reported Louisiana cases addressing the constitutionality of La.R.S. 14:100.13 since the ruling in Arizona. ...
Moreover, La.R.S. 14:100.13 offers no definition of the terms ? “alien student” or “non resident alien.” These terms have no real meaning under the federal immigration scheme and are not recognized in federal immigration provisions. Neither does the statute define what is meant by “lawfully present in the United States.”...
To put it plain and simple, La.R.S. 14:10 0.13 is preempted by federal law; and the State of Louisiana lacks Constitutional authority to enforce it. Defendant‘s conviction and sentence are reversed and set aside.
Lafayette attorney G. Paul Marx, who runs the 15th JDC Public Defender’s Office, hailed the ruling in a statement released Wednesday morning:
Louisiana should focus on arrests of serious offenses which ICE will use for deportation, instead of a half baked attempt to regulate illegal immigration that is error prone and wasteful. Two courts have now found that the Louisiana Law is invalid since Arizona v U.S. was handed down.
This state does not have the resources to waste jail space and manpower on this traffic type statute when serious offenders who are illegal aliens can be shipped out by the federal government. Currently, arrests under this statute hold people for a few weeks or months, and ICE has no interest unless there is a felony offense: this statute is not working unless draining resources from law enforcement was the goal. The Third Circuit has made the correct call.
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