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Ruling threatens smuggling cases against Marines

Border fence in Nogales
Posted at 1:29 PM, Nov 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-19 18:48:34-05

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Marine Corps prosecutors were meeting Tuesday to try and save its cases against 13 Marines accused of crimes tied to a human smuggling and drug investigation after a military judge ruled it was illegal to make the videotaped arrests made during a battalion formation while leaders called them “a cancer” and “bad Marines.”

Maj. Kendra Motz said prosecutors at Marine Corps Camp Pendleton were exploring their options, but she did not know what they were considering.

The judge, Marine Col. Stephen Keane, gave prosecutors until Nov. 25 to offer a way to remedy the situation.

When ruling Friday, Keane agreed with defense attorneys that commanders violated the rights of the accused when they pulled the Marines out of a morning battalion formation of 800 troops at Camp Pendleton July 25 and accused them of the crimes in front of their unit, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines.

The actions amounted to unlawful command influence, Keane said. That is when commanders use their positions of power to affect a case and compromise the ability for a fair trial.

If the prosecution cannot remedy the situation, the court would be left with only one option: dismissing the charges, he said.

Defense attorneys for some of the Marines have asked for charges to be dismissed. They say the public display would make it difficult to find an impartial jury pool and guarantee a fair trial.

The Marine Corps filmed the arrests. The video was obtained by the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The Marine Corps said in a statement when the newspaper obtained the video that it was made to document the arrest “in an unbiased, non-editorialized manner.”

The video is for official use only and would not be released, Motz said. Prosecutors declined to be interviewed, saying they do not comment on pending cases.

The military personnel are accused of various crimes from migrant smuggling to drug-related offenses, but officials have not said exactly how they were involved.

U.S. Border Patrol officials say smuggling rings have been luring U.S. troops, police officers, Border Patrol agents and others to work for them as drivers — a crucial component of moving migrants further into the United States once smugglers get them over the border from Mexico.

None of the Marines are accused of bringing immigrants across the border.