Citing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling barring the state of Arizona from enacting a law requiring motorists to have documentation proving they’re in the United States legally — a so-called “driving while Hispanic” law — Louisiana’s 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal has once again ordered the convictions of three Hispanic people in Lafayette reversed.
In each case the defendants — Yolanda Martinez, Pineda Osbaldo and Keren Mejia — were pulled over in fall 2011 by local law enforcement, were unable to produce documentation proving their lawful presence and were arrested. Defended by attorney Chad Ikerd of the 15th Judicial District’s Public Defender’s Office, the three filed motions to quash the charges against them, “arguing that the statute was not a valid exercise of police powers and was preempted by federal legislation.”
The state, represented by the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, opposed the motions and district court Judge J. David Painter, according to the 3rd Circuit ruling, “indicated that it would ‘rule the same way’ as it had in previous cases addressing this issue and denied the motion to quash.” The defendants pleaded no contest and appealed to the 3rd Circuit, which released separate rulings Wednesday reversing the convictions.
The case essentially boils down to the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution; there is a federal law requiring non-citizens to carry proof of lawful presence in the U.S., but in Arizona V. United States in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only the federal government can enforce the law and, moreover, states like Arizona and Louisiana cannot prescribe penalties for violating the law — in Louisiana’s case the penalty is a fine up to $1,000 and up to a year behind bars — that exceed federal sentencing guidelines.
Previous Louisiana appellate rulings in favor of “driving while Hispanic” defendants have also been upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court.