Crime & Courts

Judge dismisses charges in immigrant rights case

A federal judge Tuesday dismissed charges against a man accused of falsely claiming U.S. citizenship in a case that upholds the right of immigrants to remain silent under questioning from immigration authorities.

U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren granted the government's motion to dismiss charges against Jose Manuel Ortiz-Del Rio with prejudice, meaning the same charges cannot be filed again.

Prosecutors had sought the dismissal in the wake of Melgren's ruling last month in which he suppressed statements that Ortiz-Del Rio had made during questioning by immigration agents. The agents had gone to an apartment in November to arrest another man for deportation proceedings after a drug trafficking conviction. The agents did not have a warrant.

Melgren ruled in April that armed agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement lacked reasonable suspicion when they detained Ortiz-Del Rio after happening to find him in the apartment.

Any responses Ortiz-Del Rio gave at the time — in the absence of the Miranda warning about self-incrimination — must be suppressed, Melgren ruled. He also said any subsequent statements the suspect made when taken to the ICE station for processing must also be suppressed as "fruit of the poisonous tree."

"In our view, the ruling in this case is based on a unique set of circumstances that are not likely to occur again in other cases," said Jim Cross, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Kansas.

Assistant public defender Syovata Edari said Melgren determined that the statement was the product of an "unconstitutional interrogation." She said in an e-mail that her client's alleged statement was the sole basis for the charges.

"Since the statement was ordered suppressed, the prosecution no longer had the evidence it needed to prove its case," Edari said.

None of the facts presented by the government established that authorities had reasonable suspicion to believe any person at the apartment other than the man they were seeking would be violating the law, Melgren wrote in his ruling.