Can I Be Asked About My Immigration Status in Court?

CAN I BE ASKED ABOUT MY IMMIGRATION STATUS?   

Can you be asked about your immigration status if you are a witness at a criminal trial? It depends. In a recent appeal the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reviewed an appeal on this issue:

  • Defendant claimed he was denied his constitutional right to confront witnesses when the judge prohibited him from cross-examining several of the Commonwealth’s witnesses on their citizenship statuses

In this case, a murder case, the defendant, through his lawyer, sought to ask all of the Commonwealth’s witnesses whether they were citizens of the United States in an attempt to put forth the inference that they were undocumented and, because they were undocumented, that they may be inclined to cooperate with the Commonwealth.

The Court concluded that this argument depended on a showing that the witness was testifying in order to curry favor with the Commonwealth. The judge permitted the defendant to ask whether each witness discussed his or her citizenship status with the police or prosecution and that if the witness had not, the defendant was not allowed to inquire further. The rationale behind this was that once the witness testified that he or she had not conversed with the Commonwealth or curried any favor, there was no longer a “plausible connection” between the witness’s citizenship status and potential bias.

Based on this case it is fair to assume that if there is a plausible connection to the case--meaning the Commonwealth gave a witness or victim preference such as offering them citizenship to testify-- then an attorney cannot question the witness about their illegal status.   

IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT A CRIMINAL CHARGE, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.

CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.


Source: Commonwealth vs. Fredys Alexander Chicas, SJC—10986

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