Immigrant Cleared of Murder Can’t Pursue Vindictive Prosecution Theory

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A homeless undocumented immigrant acquitted last year of murder cannot seek evidence that the Trump administration directed the feds to vindictively prosecute him on new charges, a federal judge ruled Thursday.

Jose Garcia-Zarate sought to make the Department of Justice turn over records that might prove his theories of vindictive prosecution and federal collusion with local law enforcement.

The defense claimed prosecutors indicted Garcia-Zarate on new federal charges in retaliation for him exercising his right to a jury trial. This past November, a jury found him not guilty of murdering Kate Steinle on a San Francisco pier in 2015.

A portrait of Kate Steinle is shown in this 2015 file photo at a memorial on Pier 14 in San Francisco. (Paul Chinn AP)

Six days later, federal prosecutors charged him with being a felon in possession of a gun and being an illegally present alien in possession of a gun. Each count carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria denied Garcia-Zarate’s motion to compel evidence from the Justice Department, finding the defense lacked the proof necessary to justify such a request.

“There is no indication that the charging decision was motivated by a desire to punish Garcia-Zarate specifically for exercising any constitutional or procedural right in the state court case, as would be necessary to pursue a vindictive prosecution claim,” Chhabria wrote in a two-page ruling.

Chhabria called Garcia-Zarate’s alternate theory that federal prosecutors colluded with the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office to prosecute him for murder and illegal gun possession “even weaker.”

Garcia-Zarate was sentenced to time served on a state charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm. The defense argued that because of collusion between local and federal prosecutors during his trial, filing new federal charges against him for the same crime would be a double jeopardy violation.

“There is no basis for suspecting that the federal government controlled the District Attorney’s efforts during the state prosecution, and thus no basis for a double jeopardy claim under current law,” Chhabria wrote.

Earlier this week, Chhabria said he would also deny Garcia-Zarate’s separate motion to dismiss one of the two federal charges as duplicative.

A trial date is set for Oct. 1.

Garcia-Zarate’s lawyers, Tony Serra and Maria Belyi, did not immediately return emails and phone calls seeking comment Thursday evening.

Abraham Simmons, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of California, declined to comment.

Steinle’s death in 2015 has become a recurring topic of national debate among those who oppose and support sanctuary city policies, which limit cooperation with federal immigration authorities. Garcia-Zarate had been released from a San Francisco jail months before the shooting of Steinle. In accordance with its sanctuary policy, San Francisco denied a request to hold Garcia-Zarate so he could be taken into custody by immigration agents.

President Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions have cited Steinle’s death in support of their campaign to crack down on illegal immigration and sanctuary cities.

The incident has also played a central role in state politics. Earlier this week, a Republican candidate for California governor accused front-runner Gavin Newsom of being indirectly responsible for Steinle’s death by supporting sanctuary policies.



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