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OK Prisoners Released from Custody Despite Deportation Detainers

The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ordered two illegal aliens released from custody even though detainers for deportation had been filed with the county where they were being held, because the trial judge didn’t have authority to order them detained and federal officials hadn’t acted on the detainers within the allotted time period.

Luis Ochoa and Gregorio Robles, both Oklahoma state prisoners, were convicted of felonies. The trial judge gave them suspended sentences pursuant to plea agreements; he then questioned them about the legality of their presence in the United States. After discovering they were in the country illegally, he ordered them held and federal officials notified for deportation purposes, in accordance with his reading of OK House Bill 1804 (2007).

The sheriff notified the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which filed detainers, but ICE didn’t take custody of Ochoa and Robles within 48 hours. Attorney Joan Lopez then filed habeas petitions demanding their release.

The Court of Criminal Appeals first found that the trial judge was without authority to question Ochoa and Robles about the legality of their presence in the U.S. after he had already sentenced them; thus, he didn’t have authority to order them held for purposes of deportation. The appellate court suggested that if the trial judge had questioned them prior to imposing the suspended sentences, that might have been acceptable.

The Court of Criminal Appeals also found that since the law allowed the sheriff to hold prisoners for ICE for only 48 hours, and since ICE hadn’t taken custody of Ochoa and Robles within that time frame, the sheriff was without authority to hold them any longer.

For those reasons the appellate court granted the prisoners’ petitions for writs of habeas corpus and ordered their immediate release. See: Ochoa v. Bass, 2008 OK CR 11 (Okla. Crim.App. 2008).

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Related legal case

Ochoa v. Bass