9/26 – ajc.com – Immigrant student who sparked debate avoids a conviction | ajc.com

Immigrant student who sparked debate avoids a conviction  | ajc.com.

 

Cobb County News 6:19 p.m. Monday, September 26, 2011
By Andria Simmons

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A former Kennesaw State University student who sparked controversy when she was arrested and nearly deported over a driving offense last year has avoided a criminal conviction by entering a pretrial diversion program.

Jessica Colotl in her attorney's office Monday, May 2, 2011.

Jessica Colotl in her attorney’s office Monday, May 2, 2011.

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley signed an order Sept. 1 to dismiss a felony false swearing charge against Jessica Colotl, 23, as long as she successfully completes a pretrial diversion program. To enter the program, Colotl would have had to admit she lied to deputies about her address when being booked into the Cobb County jail on March 30, 2010, on a charge of driving without a license.

The order in the case was a surprise to Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren when he was told about it Monday.

“I am disappointed, but it is the district attorney’s job to prosecute and up to the courts to find someone guilty or not guilty,” Warren said. “I believe it sets a bad precedent that someone who is not only in the country illegally and commits the offense of false statement by lying to law enforcement officials is given nothing but a slap on the wrist.”

The program run by the Cobb County district attorney’s office is designed for first offenders who have committed crimes that did not result in injury to a victim and are non-drug related.

Details about the requirements are confidential until the program is completed. Typically, participants are required to perform community service and regular check-ins with the district attorney’s office. The program takes six months to a year to complete.

The offense of false swearing is punishable by imprisonment of one to five years in prison, although a judge could order that time to be served on probation.

Colotl’s defense attorney, Jerome Lee, said she was extremely grateful to be allowed to participate in the program.

“Hopefully, Jessica can now move on with the next phase of her life,” Lee said.

Colotl’s case became a flashpoint for debate on illegal immigration after she was stopped for a minor traffic violation on campus last year, arrested for driving without a license and nearly deported. A public outcry over the case prompted the Board of Regents to ban illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition rates from Georgia’s top public colleges.

News of the case being dead-docketed rankled Phil Kent, an anti-illegal immigration activist who was recently appointed to the state’s new Immigration Enforcement Review Board, which will have the power to investigate complaints that city, county and state officials are violating state immigration enforcement laws.

“This will be an injustice if allowed to stand — yet another example of ‘no illegal alien left behind’ when it comes to coddling their law-breaking,” said Kent. “And, of all people, Miss Colotl says she wants to be a lawyer and presumably uphold the rule of law.”

Colotl, a Mexico native whose parents brought her into the country when she was 11, has said she considers herself an American. She graduated from Kennesaw State University with a degree in political science in May and plans to attend law school to become an immigration lawyer.

She is working as an administrative assistant for her immigration attorney, Charles Kuck, who said she is “a very, very smart young woman — the kind of woman we need in the United States.”

Kuck said the federal government has granted her immigration case deferred status until next May, at which time she can apply for another deferment. Her participation in a pretrial diversion program will not affect her immigration status, he said.

Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head said he fully intended to prosecute Colotl until the federal government granted her immigration case deferred status, making her a legal resident and therefore eligible for pretrial diversion.

“I’m not going to treat her differently than I would treat any other legal resident,” Head said.

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