The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today that a man who had a criminal charge dismissed should not have been then locked up to await federal officials who wanted him deported.
In its ruling, the court rejected federal arguments that local law enforcement should be at the beck and call of ICE, saying that such "detainer" requests are civil, not criminal issues, that Massachusetts law simply doesn't let police and the courts lock people up on civil infractions, and that the court will be damned if it gives the feds the right to order Massachusetts police and courts to lock somebody up on a civil matter.
The case involves a man arrested in Boston who had a criminal charge dismissed on Feb. 6 but who was not allowed to walk out of Boston Municipal Court - he was instead ordered held in a courthouse lockup to await ICE agents who wanted to deport him. ICE had asked Boston Police to hold Sreynuon Lunn for them when he'd been arrested last October on a charge of unarmed robbery - later reduced to a lesser charge of larceny.
According to the Suffolk County District Attorney's office:
That defendant had been charged in the Boston Municipal Court on one count of larceny from a person for allegedly taking a quantity of cash from a homeless man during an Oct. 22, 2016, incident on Canal Street. Because the victim did not appear for the Jan. 17 trial date, the case was rescheduled. A new trial date of Feb. 6 was scheduled. The victim did not appear on that date, either, and without his testimony, prosecutors could not proceed to trial.
Once Lunn's case had been dismissed, he should have been released, the state's highest court said, adding that forcing him to sit in a locked cell for several hours constituted an illegal "arrest" because he was no longer being held to face a criminal charge.
Conspicuously absent from our common law is any authority (in the absence of a statute) for police officers to arrest generally for civil matters, let alone authority to arrest specifically for Federal civil immigration matters.
Written Massachusetts statutes don't help the federal case, either, the court wrote.
[N]o party or amicus has identified a single Massachusetts statute that authorizes a Massachusetts police officer or court officer, directly or indirectly, to arrest in the circumstances here, based on a Federal civil immigration detainer. Simply put, there is no such statute in Massachusetts.
Yes, the court continued, there are cases in which people can be detained without a criminal charge, but those involve people at risk of harming themselves or others, not people sought by ICE.
[T]he common law and the statutes of this Commonwealth are what establish and limit the power of Massachusetts officers to arrest. There is no history of "implicit" or "inherent" arrest authority having been recognized in Massachusetts that is greater than what is recognized by our common law and the enactments of our Legislature. Where neither our common law nor any of our statutes recognizes the power to arrest for Federal civil immigration offenses, we should be chary about reading our law's silence as a basis for affirmatively recognizing a new power to arrest -- without the protections afforded to other arrestees under Massachusetts law -- under the amorphous rubric of "implicit" or "inherent" authority. Recognizing a new common-law power to effect a Federal civil immigration arrest would also create an anomaly in our common law: a State or local police officer in Massachusetts (or, as in this case, a court officer) would be able to effect a warrantless arrest for a criminal misdemeanor only if it involves a breach of the peace ... but would be able to arrest for a Federal civil matter without any such limitation; in other words, the officer would have greater authority to arrest for a Federal civil matter than for a State criminal offense.
The prudent course is not for this court to create, and attempt to define, some new authority for court officers to arrest that heretofore has been unrecognized and undefined. The better course is for us to defer to the Legislature to establish and carefully define that authority if the Legislature wishes that to be the law of this Commonwealth.
The court also cited the Tenth Amendment, which is often cited in state's rights cases:
The United States, in its brief as amicus curiae, concedes that compliance by State authorities with immigration detainers is voluntary, not mandatory. The government's concession is well founded for at least two reasons. First, the act nowhere purports to authorize Federal authorities to require State or local officials to detain anyone. ... Second, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the Federal government from compelling States to employ their resources to administer and enforce Federal programs. ... In other words, even if the Federal government wanted to make State compliance with immigration detainers mandatory, the Tenth Amendment likely would prevent it from doing so. The Federal government has also made the same concession in litigation elsewhere, and in various policy statements and correspondence, that State compliance with its detainers is voluntary.
Amicus briefs in the case - Scroll down a bit for arguments by the federal government and others.