The July public arrest of 16 Marines at Camp Pendleton, California, was unlawful and an infringement on their rights, a military judge ruled on Nov. 15.
On July 25, the 16 Marines were called out in front of their 800-person battalion and hauled off the scene one by one by a team of law-enforcement officers, as seen in a video provided by one of the U.S. Marine’s attorneys to CBS8.
The 16 Marines were charged with alleged involvement in a human smuggling ring, and another eight men were questioned on alleged drug-related crimes.
The event was witnessed by the soldier’s peers and video taped.
The arrested soldiers’ attorneys say there is a limit to what is a justifiable display of disciplinary action when it comes respecting the presumption of innocence of those involved:
“The public humiliation of my client and others in the case was wrong. It was illegal and the Marine Corps attempt to try to influence the outcome of this case and poison the jury pool,” Bethany Payton-O’Brien, an attorney for one of the accused Marines told CBS 8, San Diego.
Payton-O’Brien filed a pretrial complaint concerning perceived “unlawful command influence.” This is a situation whereby a commander who has authority over courts-martial uses his power to influence the course of justice or the jury’s decision on a case.
“It sends a signal to the government. I’m not going to tolerate, and we should not tolerate, a command basically imposing the verdict before the court is ever held,” Payton-O’Brien said.
Marine Judge Col. Stephen Keane also ruled there was unlawful command influence at play and granted prosecutors one week to remedy the issue, otherwise, hinting that it could lead to dismissal of the charges in some of the cases.
“You have an uphill battle here,” Keane told the prosecutors. “The overarching concern of mine is that Garcia (one of the suspects) has a fair trial. If not, that leaves the court with one option,” San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
Payton-O’Brien said it was a tremendous victory for her client and his colleagues, although it remains uncertain whether the verdict has any influence on the charges themselves, CBS reported.
The investigation into troops smuggling immigrants into the United States illegally led to the arrest months ago at California’s Camp Pendleton, a base about an hour’s drive from the U.S.-Mexico border.
Officials from the 1st Marine Division worked alongside the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in the investigation that started after the July 3 arrests of two Marines charged in federal court with human smuggling.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent stopped Lance Cpl. Byron Darnell Law II and Lance Cpl. David Javier Salazar about 7 miles north of the border after being alerted by other agents that a vehicle similar to theirs was suspected of picking up immigrants in the country illegally, according to the federal complaint.
Law told the agent that Salazar asked if he was interested in earning $1,000 picking up an illegal alien. Salazar told authorities that Law introduced him to a man who “recruited” him to smuggle migrants into the country illegally, according to court documents.
Associated Press contributed to this report