- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona Senate passed a bill on Thursday that would prevent prosecutors from dismissing charges or offering plea deals for people who are deported before the courts reach a settlement.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said the bill is in response to a case from January involving an undocumented immigrant suspected of shooting and killing a 21-year-old QT employee.

“We just saw this situation play out and now we have a 21-year-old kid who’s dead because of it,” he said.

However, the suspect in the case was out on bail while facing a deportation hearing over a 2012 burglary conviction. As written, the bill would only apply to people arrested and deported before their cases are settled.

The proposal would only bar plea agreements for defendants who have previously been deported.

Smith says the goal of the bill is to prosecute undocumented immigrants on the original charges if they return to the U.S.

Senate Bill 1222 received approval on an 18-12 vote and now moves to the House.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, opposed the bill over concerns it would limit the ability of courts and prosecutors to decide what is a fair sentence.

“It takes away the discretion of the prosecutors to dispose of the case in a way that obtains justice,” he said.

The Pima County Attorney’s Office said it’s unconstitutional.

“The Legislature cannot tell us how to dispose of our cases,” said Kathleen Mayer, legislative liaison for Pima County.

Mayer said in most cases it’s often years before immigrants who have been deported come back and get arrested. If they do, it’s difficult to prosecute them on the original charges because the evidence and the witnesses have disappeared, she said.

“We may not be able to prove the original charge,” Mayer said.

Zack Taylor, chairman of the National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, said prosecutors often pursue plea agreements after immigrants are deported to lighten their caseloads.

Taylor said the bill would keep criminals from coming back across the border.

“What we are looking for is a way to disincentivize the criminal element that is in the illegal alien population from visiting Arizona,” Taylor said.

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