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Judge rejects good Samaritan defense in immigration case

September 4, 2019

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A judge rejected a good Samaritan defense sought by a Nebraska man who is accused in a conspiracy to harbor people living in the U.S. illegally.

John Good is charged with conspiracy to harbor aliens and other crimes in a case involving his interactions with a couple who managed Good’s Mexican restaurant in O’Neill, a community of about 3,700 people that has struggled with a shortage of labor since a 2018 federal immigration raid at a tomato greenhouse, potato processing plant and cattle feedlot.

Good’s attorney, David Domina, argued in in a legal brief that his client lived out the lesson of the Bible’s good Samaritan parable in his dealings with the couple, Juan Pablo Sanchez-Delgado and Magdalena Castro Benitez, who have admitted to profiting off a scheme to supply cheap immigrant labor to farm operations in the area. The two are scheduled for sentencing Nov. 15.

The government alleges that Good helped the couple hide commercial assets and businesses in his name and helped Sanchez-Delgado hide from immigration authorities.

But Domina argued that Good did not harbor, conspire, conceal, hide or launder money in his efforts to help his friends. “He lived the Christian convictions of his upbringing in his faith,” Domina said of his client. “Now the government charges that Mr. Good’s religious convictions, when put into active expression in life, are felonies.”

The Lincoln Journal Star reported that prosecutor Lesley Woods asked U.S. District Judge John Gerrard to bar Domina from raising the free exercise of religion as a defense for Good. She argued that the practice of Christianity doesn’t provide a “constitutional shield to conspiring to harbor aliens.”

It was irrelevant to present evidence that Good had acted with Christian motivation, Woods said, because three U.S. appellate courts, including the appellate court for the district that includes Nebraska, have ruled that Christian motivation is not a valid constitutional defense.

Gerrard said in his ruling against Good last month that the issue is not whether Good’s faith could provide some sort of defense.

“It’s whether that defense is a matter for the court or for a jury,” the judge said. “And there’s no question that it’s a matter for the court.”

Gerrard pointed to a 2017 appellate decision that barred a man accused of distributing heroin from arguing that the free exercise of his religion required him to do it.

Good’s trial is set to start Sept. 16.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com

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