Students in Miami Law's Immigration Clinic obtained a landmark decision terminating immigration court proceedings against their client because of illegal conduct by Hollywood police. The decision may be the first to recognize that Constitutional violations by local police can warrant the exclusion of evidence in federal, civil immigration proceedings.
Students Abraham Rubert-Schewel and Alexander Vail, both 3Ls, presented the case in immigration court last spring, cross-examining multiple Hollywood police officers and federal agents from Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).
"Working on the case was intellectually challenging and socially fulfilling," reflected Vail. Rubert-Schewel added, "Being part of the Clinic and working on this case was one of the best experiences I have had while in law school. We gained an incredible appreciation for the disruption and fear potential deportation can bring to someone's life, as well as invaluable experience as an advocate. We were able to protect the Constitutional rights of our client, who may have had no representation if the Clinic had not taken his case."
Hollywood police officers seized the Clinic's client at a food store in the middle of the night and beat him in a dark parking lot. The police did not charge him with a crime but called CBP agents to the scene. CBP took the client to the hospital, documented his injuries, and detained him. The client spent over six months in detention at Krome Service Processing Center while fighting his case.
In a 52-page decision, the immigration judge found that Hollywood police were not credible in their account of the arrest, finding that their "testimony was riddled with inconsistencies and implausible in light of the objective facts." The judge also found that the police officers had violated the client's Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights and terminated the court proceedings. In so doing, she ruled that the exclusionary rule could apply to evidence offered by immigration authorities even where local police have committed the underlying Constitutional violation.
"People rarely file motions to suppress in immigration court and almost never file in cases involving unlawful police action," commented Professor Rebecca Sharpless, Director of the Immigration Clinic. "This case involves an important and evolving area of the law."
In an August 2013 Practice Advisory by the Legal Action Center of the American Immigration Council, the authors note that they are unaware of any case in which a court had granted a motion to suppress based on actions taken by local police, as opposed to federal immigration agents.
The Immigration Clinic is part of Miami Law's Clinical Program, which allows students to practice law under the supervision of licensed attorneys. Students interested in participating in a Clinic should apply in the spring for the following year.