The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Kennesaw State University student whose arrest and near deportation prompted a statewide debate about illegal immigration may be headed back to jail, if only for a few hours.
A Cobb County jury on Thursday found Jessica Colotl, 22, guilty on a charge of driving with no license. A conviction on the misdemeanor charge requires a mandatory minimum sentence of 48 hours in jail, with credit for time served. Colotl has already spent 45.5 hours in the Cobb County clink as a result of her March 30 arrest, so she would have to serve a minimum of 2 and a half hours. The maximum penalty under the law is 12 months in jail.
"I don't agree with the verdict, but I have to go along with what they reached," Colotl said after the trial ended.
Cobb County State Court Judge Kathryn Tanksley deferred sentencing on the case until 11 a.m. Monday; however, an appeal that defense attorneys plan to file would delay sentencing until the state Supreme Court has a chance to review the verdict.
Colotl was exonerated of the charge that put her on the radar of campus police -- a misdemeanor charge of impeding the flow of traffic by idling in a parking lot as she waited for a space to open up.
Jerome Lee, Colotl's attorney, said his client should have been found not guilty of driving without a license because she recently obtained a learner's permit. State law says that a person facing a charge of driving with no license shall be found not guilty if they show up to court with a driver's license in hand.
Cobb County Assistant Solicitor Rachel Bearman successfully argued that a learner's permit does not suffice as a driver's license under the law. She questioned whether the permit was valid, telling the judge "they have to lay a foundation for that, and the only person who could say that is the Department of Driver Services."
Colotl's learning permit will be suspended for six months as a result of the conviction, her lawyers said.
Kennesaw State University Police Sgt. Kevin Kimsey testified that after he stopped Colotl, she fished around in her vehicle's center console and glove box as if looking for a license. She was "adamant" that she had a Mexican driver's license, but told the officer she might have left it in another purse, Kimsey said. He gave her until the following day at noon to show up at the police station with the license.
Colotl showed up at 11:55 a.m., saying she still couldn't find it. Her attorneys later conceded that she never had one.
Colotl was jailed and then handed over to the custody of federal immigration officers as part of a local-federal partnership called 287(g), which allows Cobb County deputies to check the immigration status of inmates. But after 37 days of being held in several immigration detention centers, Colotl was granted a yearlong deportation deferment to finish her studies.
Colotl said she is on track to graduate next spring with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in French.
"Everything is still up in the air, but something positive will happen and I will get to stay here," Colotl said.
Colotl, a native of Mexico whose parents brought her into the country as a child, considers herself and others like her to be "Americans without papers."
Hank McCue, a curious Cobb County resident who attended the trial, said Colotl should have to followed the rules to emigrate legally like his own parents did in 1929.
"The real question is, what are we doing here?" McCue said. "We are paying jurors and we have a judge sitting here and we are spending all this time. She is an illegal immigrant."