Deportation in Rifle sex assault case halts criminal proceeding
January 29, 2019
Within three days of bonding out of the Garfield County Jail, where he had been detained on charges of sexual assault, Jose Solis-Coyado was in federal custody awaiting deportation to Guatemala.
Prosecutors were ultimately unable to prevent his deportation, and Solis-Coyado is now out of reach for either criminal prosecution or exoneration.
Having a defendant deported before a felony trial is not a frequent occurrence in the 9th Judicial District, according to District Attorney Jeff Cheney, but it's not also not abnormal.
'MORAL TERPITUDE' allegations
“It is incredibly frustrating for state prosecutors who prosecute state criminal cases in which there are victims of a crime to confront an absence of an accused for further prosecution due to deportation.”
— 9th District Attorney Jeff Cheney
“I often defend the rights of the undocumented in criminal court because a guilty plea in criminal court can have immigration consequences and I do not like to see families torn apart.”
— Defense attorney Lucy Laffoon
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Solis-Coyado was arrested Oct. 2, 2018, in Rifle on charges of sexual assault against his son's babysitter. The woman claims Solis-Coyado forced himself on her in a car early in the morning after she had watched his son through the night, according to court documents.
When he was arrested later the day of the incident, Solis-Coyado told police that the sex was "voluntary" and in no way forced.
The defendant's 4-year-old boy was taken into child service protection after the arrest, and local attorney Lucy Laffoon was appointed to represent the Respondent Parent Counsel. She soon represented him in criminal and immigration hearings pro bono.
"I often defend the rights of the undocumented in criminal court because a guilty plea in criminal court can have immigration consequences, and I do not like to see families torn apart," Laffoon said.
At an Oct. 28 hearing, District Judge John Neiley set bond at $25,000 for the severity of the charges — the alleged victim had marks on her arm, according to the affidavit. Solis-Coyado soon posted the bond, according to court records.
"As soon as he bonded out of the Garfield County Jail, within 72 hours (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) showed up somewhere near his residence and took him into custody," Laffoon said.
ICE placed a detainer on Solis-Coyado Oct. 31, according to the agency, partially because he was charged with a crime involving moral turpitude, which, if convicted, renders a person inadmissible to the U.S.
"We already knew they were coming for him because he missed a check-in with ICE while incarcerated at the Garfield County Jail and was accused of a deportable crime," Laffoon said.
Once at the contract ICE detention center in Aurora, Solis-Coyado (who is known to ICE and is listed in an FBI database as alias Carlos Rodriguez) was denied bond due a previous deportation and illegal reentry into the U.S.
Ninth District prosecutors filed a writ to transfer the defendant to Glenwood Springs for his court appearances. Solis-Coyado applied for asylum status and ICE stayed his deportation but held him in custody. Ultimately, he chose not to pursue asylum, Laffoon said.
On Solis-Coyado's Dec. 13 court date in Glenwood Springs, district prosecutors argued before Judge Neiley that Solis-Coyado's bond should be revoked to compel him to remain in jail awaiting trial.
"At that point, the only way for him to remain in the country was if the DA's office were able to have his bond revoked and keep him in custody at the Garfield County Jail," Laffoon said.
Prosecutors asked to revoke bond, and for a new cash surety bond of $100,000. But the $25,000 bond was already five times higher than the recommended bond amount, Neiley said. Judges refer to bond guidelines based on a number of factors, and as Solis-Coyado had missed no court appearances (he had been transported to Garfield jail while on ICE detainer), Neiley determined there was not sufficient grounds to revoke bond.
"Our jurisdiction is only with respect to the enforcement of state law and our authority is limited to asking for reasonable bond amounts taking into consideration a person's risk of not appearing for future court hearings," Cheney said.
Potential for deportation is not considered as part of the risk assessment.
"Under our state constitution and statutes, all accused persons are presumed 'not guilty' until they are convicted and are entitled to a reasonable bond," Cheney said.
In balance, ICE apparently determined that deporting Solis-Coyado was appropriate.
"ICE looks at all the facts and circumstances behind a person's record, including a person's record, what judges have said, what they have pending," Denver ICE public affairs officer Alethea Smock said.
Ultimately, the decision is theirs, and state jurisdictions cannot compel them to halt deportation proceedings, Smock said.
FAILING TO APPEAR
ICE removed Solis-Coyado to Guatemala in late December. After failing to appear for his court date Dec. 27, and again on Jan. 10, the court revoked his present bond and raised it to $100,000.
Solis-Coyado expects his son to join him in Guatemala, Laffoon said.
Cheney said his office is investigating the possibility of extraditing Solis-Coyado for trial in Colorado. But deportations can mean criminal cases go unresolved for extended periods of time.
"It is incredibly frustrating for state prosecutors who prosecute state criminal cases in which there are victims of a crime to confront an absence of an accused for further prosecution due to deportation," Cheney said.
Without going through the legal system, "victims of crime are left without their day in court and accused persons will not have the chance to either be exonerated or punished for criminal accusations," Cheney said.
Solis-Coyado maintains his innocence, Laffoon said.
Added Cheney, "I would advocate for federal immigration law to consider the implications of deporting persons who are the subject of serious crimes."
This is not the only case in Garfield County where a defendant was deported before the trial process is over, Cheney said. But he added, "there has not been any substantial uptick in cases being suspended as a result of deportation."