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Massachusetts court weighs case of Somali refugee facing deportation

BOSTON — Efforts by Boston’s top prosecutor to protect immigrants facing deportation for nonviolent crimes are the focus of a case making its way through Massachusetts’ highest court.

State Supreme Judicial Court Justice David Lowy is holding a hearing Tuesday in the case of Osman Bilal, a 28-year-old Somali refugee who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor larceny for stealing jewelry from a Boston street vendor in 2011.

The judge is considering whether Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ office misled a lower court judge when it recently sought — and received — a new trial for Bilal, and then promptly filed a motion to drop the charges.

The move essentially wiped Bilal’s criminal record clean so he could renew his green card and avoid deportation.

But days later, Boston Municipal Judge Michael Coyne reversed his order granting Bilal a new trial and reinstated his conviction, saying Bilal’s lawyers and Rollins’ office “intentionally misled” the court.

Rollins’ office petitioned the high court, arguing Coyne overstepped his authority in reversing the decision.

Her office has also denied any misconduct, saying in legal filings that prosecutors made it clear to Coyne that they sought to vacate Bilal’s conviction so he could avoid “extreme and unjust collateral consequences from cruel federal immigration laws.”

Rollins, a Democrat, was elected Boston’s top prosecutor in 2018 on a campaign promise not to prosecute nonviolent offenses like drug possession, shoplifting and trespassing that she says disproportionally hurt poor and black communities.

Among the new policies she also instituted when she took office was reviewing any cases where defendants were seeking to have their convictions vacated due to “unjust immigration consequences.”

Rollins has had other prominent clashes with the judiciary, most recently with her decision not to prosecute many counterprotesters arrested for minor infractions at a “Straight Pride Parade” in Boston last year.

In that case, a lower court judge refused to honor her office’s request to drop the charges, prompting Rollins to appeal to the high court, which overruled the judge.

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