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Think that undocumented immigrants have no right to due process in the United States? The Texas Supreme Court disagrees and has overturned a $15.8 million verdict on grounds that the jury was prejudiced against an undocumented immigrant due to his status.
In TXI Transportation Company v. Hughes, the Supreme Court of Texas unanimously ruled that information pertaining to someone’s immigration status is not only irrelevant and inadmissible but prejudicial when presented during a trial.
Several members of the Hughes family were killed when their vehicle collided with an eighteen wheel tractor-trailer rig driven by Rodriguez on behalf of TXI Transportation Company. A jury found that Rodriguez’s and TXI’s negligence proximately caused the accident, and awarded $15.7 million in damages to the remaining Hughes kin.
But the case was heavily centered around the fact that Rodriguez was undocumented and did not have any right to live or work in this country and that became a central gripe for the Texas Supreme Court.
During the jury trial, TXI representatives were continuously cross-examined as to whether they owed it to the public to prevent an undocumented immigrant from driving:
- “Do you think he is entitled to drive here if he’s illegally here?”
- “And you don’t think you owe any duty . . . to the public . . . to the people who are driving up and down [Highway] 114 . . . to decide whether he’s illegal or not?”
- “Mr. Rodriguez is still illegal in the United States, is he not? . . . Will anybody ever turn him in, or will he just continue to drive for TXI?”
- “Do you think Mr. Rodriguez lied to . . . enter the United States?”
- “Are you telling this jury that you don’t know whether he lied to get into the United States?”
- “Now do you think that Mr. Rodriguez would lie when it relates to driving a rock truck?”
There is little doubt that these slew of mis-leading and irrelevant questions were not a harmless error but conscious, concerted effort to distract jurors from the actual relevant facts of the case. Hence, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Rodriguez’s status was used to inflame the jury and impeach his credibility, which denied TXI right to a fair trial. Specifically, Justice Medina wrote that “Rodriguez’s immigration status did not cause the collision, and was not relevant to the negligent entrustment or hiring claims.”
Nativists love to rant about “illegal alien drivers” but adding the unnecessary “illegal” slur will no longer help in a Texas courtroom. Justice Medina concluded forcefully that “such appeals to racial and ethnic prejudices, whether ‘explicit and brazen’ or ‘veiled and subtle,’ cannot be tolerated because they undermine the very basis of our judicial process.”
Maybe Kris Kobach might appeal this to the Supreme Court of the United States and lose yet again, so that the prejudicial signifier is declared inadmissible in courtrooms across the country.
Photo Credit: NCinDC