Charges dismissed in Georgia immigration case



ATLANTA — The criminal case against a young woman from Mexico whose 2010 arrest for a traffic offense in suburban Atlanta nearly led to her deportation has been dismissed, according to a court document.

An order signed Wednes­day by Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary Staley grants a defense request to dismiss the case against Jessica Colotl.

“We’re glad this odyssey is finally over,” Colotl’s lawyer Jerome Lee said.

After several legal twists and turns, Lee in October had accused Staley of playing politics with the case, saying the elected judge was refusing to dismiss it to pander to her conservative constituency.

Colotl, whose parents brought her to the U.S. illegally from Mexico when she was 11, was thrust into the national spotlight after she was stopped for a minor traffic violation in March 2010 and then arrested for driving without a license.

In February 2011, Colotl was indicted on a charge of false swearing after the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office said she gave deputies false contact information during booking for her arrest.

Colotl entered into an agreement with the Cobb County district attorney’s office in August 2011 to participate in a pretrial diversion program. Staley initially signed off on Colotl’s participation in that program but then backtracked after a media report quoted Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren as calling the deal a “slap on the wrist” and something he hadn’t agreed to.

Even after then-District Attorney Pat Head filed court documents advising the court he had no intention of prosecuting the case further, Staley declined to dismiss the case.

In her order, Staley said that both she and the sheriff do not believe the pretrial diversion program was appropriate in Colotl’s case. But she said that Colotl did enter the program and had completed its requirements.

Head did not seek re-election in November. Staley says in her order that Head’s successor, Vic Reynolds, who took office Jan. 2, was not involved in the decision to allow Colotl to enter the pretrial diversion program, but that he believes the district attorney’s office is legally and ethically bound by the agreement made with Colotl. Therefore, Reynolds does not oppose dismissing the case, Staley wrote.

Lee applauded Staley for making what he speculated was a politically difficult choice.

After Colotl’s traffic stop in 2010, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office turned her over to federal authorities and she spent more than a month in a detention center in Alabama. Immigration authorities released her, saying they would give her a year to finish her studies at Kennesaw State University.

She has since graduated and is in the process of applying for an Obama administration program that allows illegal immigrants to avoid deportation for two years and apply for a work permit.