Jun 28, 2013 5:32 PM by Tina Macias

Supreme court to hear Lafayette man's 'unlawful presence' case

The Louisiana Supreme Court will weigh in on a Lafayette man's complaint that a law requiring some drivers to prove their citizenship is unconstitutional.

Last week, the court agreed to hear the case that questions the "driving without lawful presence" law, which forces drivers face a felony charge if they cannot prove citizenship. A hearing date has not been set in that case.

Sarrabea's case is the third case involving Lafayette defendants questioning the "lawful presence" law that will be heard by the supreme court. Last month, the court also agreed to hear appeals from Bonifacio Ramirez and Rosa Lugo Marquez, who were also arrested in Lafayette Parish. A hearing date for those cases also has not been set. The American Civil Liberties Union has filed supporting briefs in those cases.

Last month, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals granted Sarrabea's appeal and ruled that the law is unconstitutional. The appeals came after Alexis Sarrabea was arrested under the unlawful presence statute after being pulled over in Lafayette Parish. He spent three months in parish jail after pleading "not guilty." He later changed his plea to "no contest" -- an acceptance of the charges but not an admission of guilt -- on the grounds that he could later challenge the validity of the law.

Sarrabea later appealed, claiming the law was overly vague, unconstitutional and that only the federal government has the authority to regulate immigration. The appellate court agreed.

"To put it plain and simple, (the law) is preempted by federal law; and the state of Louisiana lacks constitutional authority to enforce it," wrote Judge Sylvia Cooks in the opinion. She also cited the U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down some of Arizona's immigration laws.

In the opinion, Cooks also wrote that the law was enforced related to whether or not the person carried their documentation with them, not whether they were actually in the country illegally or not. Sarrabea's convection was thrown out by the appellate court.




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