Last week, Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley declined to dismiss a felony charge brought against Kennesaw State University graduate Jessica Colotl despite Colotl’s completion of a pretrial diversion program and the District Attorney’s request to dismiss the case.
Colotl was charged with false swearing after she gave deputies an incorrect address when she was arrested for driving without a license in 2010. According to an agreement between Colotl’s defense attorney and the District Attorney’s office, Colotl could avoid a felony conviction by successfully completing a pretrial diversion program. Colotl satisfied the requirements of the program in February by completing 150 hours of community service.
Colotl’s attorney and the Cobb County District Attorney Pat Head jointly requested that Judge Staley dismiss the felony false swearing charge, stressing that Colotl fulfilled her responsibilities under the pretrial diversion program, and “current law prohibits prosecuting the case further.” Head is expected to file a written motion reiterating his position soon.
Despite the insistence from the DA that the case be dismissed, Judge Staley indicated that she believed the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office raised “legitimate concerns” that have not been addressed by the parties. The judge found that Colotl, who was convicted of the misdemeanor offense of driving without a license in 2010, is ineligible for such a pretrial diversion program as agreed to by the parties. Mirroring the judge’s stance, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren agrees that Colotl’s felony charge should not be dropped. Both the judge and the sheriff cited concerns of disparate treatment of similarly-situated defendants if an exception is made for Colotl.
Colotl, a native of Mexico, accompanied her parents to the United States when she was about 10 years old. Since that time, Colotl has been unable to obtain permanent U.S. citizenship. In March 2010, while Colotl was a student at Kennesaw State University, a university police officer pulled Colotl over for impeding traffic flow in a campus parking lot and subsequently arrested her for driving without a valid driver’s license. After uncovering her illegal status, law enforcement turned Colotl over to immigration authorities. Her arrest sparked a national controversy and debate over children of illegal immigrants who grow up in the U.S. and wish to enroll in public colleges. Since her arrest, Colotl has been granted three deportation deferments. Adding a felony conviction to her record would negate all of Colotl’s efforts to become a legal citizen of the United States.
When threatened with deportation, university officials and immigration advocates rushed to support Colotl. A political science student, Colotl was thriving at KSU and university staff members were eager for her to graduate. As a result of the deportation deferments, Colotl was able to continue her studies and graduate from KSU in May 2011.
Judge Staley’s decision has provoked a myriad of responses from the community. Some individuals have praised her decision to let Colotl’s felony charge stand, believing that Colotl’s illegal status makes it improper for her live, let alone be educated, in the United States. Others point to the vengeful nature of the judge’s decision, arguing that to ignore an agreement reached by both parties and the fact that the diversion program requirements were completed by the defendant seems impractical and politically motivated.
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