Can the court ask me about my immigration status?

Can the court ask me about my immigration status?

It depends. In a recent case the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reviewed an appeal on this issue:

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

The defendant sought to ask all of the Commonwealth’s witnesses whether they were citizens of the United States. The lawyer was attempting to infer that they were undocumented. He believed that because they were undocumented, that they may have been inclined to cooperate with the Commonwealth.

Does there need to be a connection between bias and citizenship?

Yes. 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. If the witness had not, the judge did not allow the defendant 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.

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