• Border Patrol Prosecution

    Author : Criminal Defense Associates December 5, 2018

    Perhaps you’ve seen the headlines and photos of the caravan of families from Central America headed to the U.S. with plans to seek asylum. The border has since become heavily guarded by both the National Guard and a contingency of border patrol and protection officers. The current administration has made statements that any projectiles thrown from the crowd at officers would be met with force.

    This past weekend, people attempting to cross the border at Tijuana were met with tear gas. Though there have not been any fatalities, a case decided recently could have repercussions for the eventuality of deaths caused by U.S.-led agencies at the border. In 2012, Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Swartz was accused of shooting 16 rounds through the border fence from Nogales, Arizona into Nogales, Sonora Mexico. The sixteen-year-old girl, Jose Elena Rodriguez, was found to have 10 bullets distributed throughout her back and head. Swartz put on a defense stating that Mr. Rodriguez was throwing rocks, and as a result, Swartz feared for his life. The judge agreed, announcing that he was not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

    Despite this verdict, the fact that there was a case brought against an officer at all is noteworthy and could mean further litigation down the line. One newspaper, the Guardian, has noted 97 fatalities over the past fifteen years at the border. Yet, this is only the third time in history that a Border Patrol agent stood trial for a killing they committed on the job. The two previous cases ended in a full acquittal, as well as a hung jury. Notably, in the second case, the defendant claimed that the victim there had also been throwing rocks.

    It appears that, as in many other law enforcement cases, the deck is stacked against the prosecution in carrying the burden of proof. In some cases, the jury is surely wary of finding a law enforcement officer guilty for conduct done in the line of duty, often under stressful and fast-paced conditions. Perhaps, in border enforcement cases, there is some inherent prejudice for individuals attempting to cross the border, or who is alleged to have threatened the country.

    While the verdict, in this case, is final, the victim's family is not finished. They have filed a case through the American Civil Liberties Union in a civil case, currently pending in front of the Supreme Court. This case could be the first time an agent is held civilly liable for monetary damages for a killing done outside the U.S. territory. Regardless, the case should prove to be an interesting bellwether for the situation unfolding at the border.

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