The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) recently ruled that police officers in the Commonwealth cannot detain a person in the state solely because of immigration status. In a unanimous ruling by the SJC, police officers in the Bay State are no longer able to legally comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainers. An ICE detainer is a request by federal authorities that asks local law enforcement officials to “hold” a person if the charges against him or her are dropped because the federal government believes the person may be violating the country’s immigration laws.
In this Lunn v. Commonwealth, Sreynoun Lunn, a Cambodian without a legal right to be in the United States, was arrested for robbery in Massachusetts. At trial, the judge dismissed the robbery charges against Lunn because the prosecution was not sufficiently prepared to argue the case. However, once the charges were dismissed against him, Lunn was not released by the police. Instead, the police held Lunn for several hours at the request of ICE, who wanted to take him into custody for violating federal immigration laws. The SJC held that this was illegal under Massachusetts law. In the simplest explanation, Massachusetts does not provide its police officers the authority to hold someone who does not have any charges pending for the sole purpose of complying with an ICE detainer. Further, the SJC noted, the ICE detainer is merely a request, not a legal obligation.
Moreover, because immigration is a civil law, then violating the law is not even a crime. “Unlawful presence” is a civil infraction, so in the case of ICE detainers, the police are essentially being asked by the federal government to detain someone without an arrest warrant for a violation of the law that is not even a crime. Therefore, voluntary compliance with these ICE detainer requests is not permissible under Massachusetts law, the SJC ruled. Or, in the words of the highest court in the Bay State, “Massachusetts law provides no authority for Massachusetts court officers to arrest and hold an individual solely on the basis of a Federal civil immigration detainer, beyond the time that the individual would otherwise be entitled to be released from State custody.”
Going forward, the police in Massachusetts will not be able to detain someone for violating federal immigration laws if there are no Massachusetts criminal charges pending against them. Critics and advocates alike have claimed the SJC’s new ruling has the effect of making the entire Commonwealth a “sanctuary state,” meaning that the local authorities will not be amenable to enforcing federal immigration laws.
Reach Out to a Local Attorney Today
The recent case by the SJC demonstrates that having an attorney who fights for the rights of his or her clients, even if that means taking a case to the highest Court in the Commonwealth, is invaluable. This case also demonstrates the necessity of a criminal defense attorney in Massachusetts staying up-to-date on all recent developments in the law. If you believe that you have been wrongly arrested or wrongly detained by the police in Massachusetts, then you should speak with a Massachusetts criminal law attorney today.