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New law to limit immigration status questions in criminal defense

State representatives often look for ways to refine the legal system and make it as fair as possible. Recently, California lawmakers approved a bill that would limit the revelation of a person's immigration status in open court. They hope the bill will encourage people to testify regardless of their immigration status, as well as keeping juries focused on the relevant issues in a criminal defense case.

Some advocates say that undocumented immigrants avoid reporting crimes or testifying in court for fear of deportation. The new California law aims to make the court system safe for victims and witnesses by ensuring their immigration status is only raised if it is relevant to the case. They hope the law will help protect public safety by helping people be more comfortable in sharing testimony.

Prior to the passing of this law, immigration status has been used in court to make points about the credibility of a witness. For example, in one California case, a jury was informed that a witness was given a special visa for cooperating with law enforcement. This resulted in a hung jury and a second trial in which the individual refused to testify.

Lawmakers hope the move will improve criminal trials by making it safe for people to testify and preventing juries from hearing evidence that is not relevant to the case. The legislation will not only apply to those witnesses supporting the prosecution, but also those who are involved in criminal defense. Those facing charges who would like to understand how the law may affect them and those testifying on their behalf should contact a California lawyer.

Source:, "Bill would shield immigration status in court", Tatiana Sanchez and Katy Murphy, May 11, 2018

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