While former Kennesaw State student Jessica Colotl’s case generated strong response from the public, the official response has been far more tempered, including the recent decision by a Cobb County Superior Court judge to dismiss a felony false swearing charge if she successfully completes a pretrial diversion program.
Colotl, an illegal immigrant brought to this country as a child, was nearly deported to Mexico in 2010 following an arrest for a traffic violation on the Kennesaw campus. Even though the details of her case and her college attendance sparked outrage in Georgia, the federal government granted Colotl a yearlong deferment so she could complete her degree in political science.
To enter the diversion program, Colotl would have had to admit she lied to deputies about her address when being booked into the Cobb County jail on a charge of driving without a license.
It was that traffic arrest that led to legislative debate over undocumented students in Georgia paying in-state tuition, eventually causing the Regents to alter policy. I know that many people will complain that Colotl somehow received special treatment by being offered a diversion program, but it is not uncommon.
According to the AJC:
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.
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.
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.”
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog