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Facing Deportation, an Undocumented Immigrant Held at Flagler Jail Changes His Plea at Last Minute

| February 14, 2018

Francisco Justo being led away from the dais after his hearing Tuesday, with his interpreter nearby. (© FlaglerLive)

Filipino Francisco Justo being led away from the dais after his hearing Tuesday, with his interpreter nearby. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast resident Filipino Francisco Justo was standing in front of Circuit Court Judge Dennis Craig with his attorney, Bill Bookhammer, ready to plead no contest to an assault charge in exchange of serving 180 days at the local jail. He’d already served 114 days.

But after the defense and the prosecution laid out the agreed plea to the judge Tuesday morning, the deal fell apart once Craig began addressing Francisco directly, through an interpreter, and it was revealed to Francisco that he would be deported if he was found guilty. So while both prosecution and defense appeared eager to resolve the case, it will now resume its trajectory toward trial, incurring further costs, including additional costs of incarceration, and may yet add still more costs depending on the outcome of the case, underscoring how the potential for deportation increases rather than decreases burdens on the judicial and penal systems.

Francisco is from southern Mexico, but Spanish is his second language. He speaks Chatino, a dialect spoken by fewer than 50,000 people, for which an interpreter was not available. When the judge asked him how well he understood the proceedings, Francisco said: “I understood some.”

“So you don’t understand everything?” the judge said.

“In our state where we are from, we speak just a dialect,” Francisco said.

“Tell him I need to be sure that he understands what you’re telling him,” Craig said. “When he says some, that’s not good enough. I need him to understand it all.”

“Yes I did understand, but for me to be able to speak it back, not as much,” Francisco said through his interpreter.  

That seemed to end the confusion at that point, but not entirely. There’d also been confusion as to what the court could and could not do regarding his status as a non-citizen.

“Is he a U.S. citizen?” Craig had asked his attorney.

“I don’t believe the court can ask him that and I’m not required to answer it,” Bookhammer said.

“I want to be clear that he understand that if he is not a U.S. citizen it could subject him to deportation in these proceedings.,” Craig said.

“Your honor I would ask that the court rephrases that this plea will subject him” to deportation, Assistant State Prosecutor Mark Lewis said. “It’s my understanding that he’s not a U.S. citizen, that there’s already a hold on him.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency, places “holds” on individuals it deems deportable.

Francisco Francisco.

Filipino Francisco Justo. He’s been held at the Flagler County jail on $7,000 bond since October.

Bookhammer then said he’d have to discuss with Francisco the consequences of potential deportation. But Bookhammer said Francisco had accepted the negotiated deal, with an guilty plea, in exchange for 180 days in jail, having already served 114 days in jail. The state offered probation in addition to the sentence, but the defense asked for the straight 180 days.

The judge asked the state if it agreed with the plea. It did. But once Craig laid out the consequences to Francisco, Francisco went on a long tirade about the incident, pleading innocence, and saying what he’d told cops last October when they’d come to his P-Section home in response to a complaint called into 911 by his roommate: that Francisco hadn’t done any of the things his roommate had alleged. Craig listened, a patient smile on his face, then said: “Tell Mr. Francisco I don’t take pleas when you say you didn’t do it.”

The incident took place on Oct. 23 at 82 Port Royal Drive in Palm Coast. Francisco, 24, lived with two other men at that address. That early morning he’d returned home with one of his roommates, Onesimo Francisco, but according to the third roommate the two Franciscos were being loud. Their roommate asked them to be quiet or else he’d call police.

When he did so, Francisco got agitated, according to his arrest report. According to the roommate, Francisco “barged in his bedroom,” put his head in a headlock, constricted his airways, and allegedly held a large kitchen knife in his other hand, claiming to be a “sicario,” or hitman, back in Mexico, and that he would cut his roommate’s throat. The roommate told deputies he managed to grab Francisco’s arm that held the knife, twisted it, and got away. He then called 911.

When a Spanish-speaking deputy spoke with the men, Francisco said nothing had happened and he didn’t know why his roommate had called police. Onesimo Francisco said the same. The roommate appeared to have swelling on his face and dried blood on his lower lip, but no marks on his neck that would have indicated any attempt at strangling. Frequently in such situations, deputies don’t make an arrest because of the inconclusive evidence of a he-said-he-said situation.

But deputies noticed what looked like a pot joint on Francisco’s person, and a baggie, possibly of meth, on the kitchen counter.  Francisco—and Francisco alone—was arrested for aggravated battery, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of marijuana under 20 grams. He’s been held at the county jail since, on $7,000 bond.

The outcome of Tuesday’s non-plea was that the case will now revert back onto a course for trial, which would be scheduled later this year—a trial that would not have the makings of a strong case for the prosecution, and that would also depend on finding the sort of interpreter who would be able to translate Francisco accurately, in his dialect. Craig said he would agree to an interpreter who only interprets Spanish for pre-trials, but for trial, he’d insist on a precise interpreter.

If found guilty at trial, Francisco could face up to seven years in prison. He could also be exonerated. Either way, deportation would not be immediate: a prosecutor said that depending on how Immigrations and Customs Enforcement handles particular cases, even if Francisco were found guilty, he would generally be required to serve out his prison sentence in the state, and only then be deported.



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30 Responses for “Facing Deportation, an Undocumented Immigrant Held at Flagler Jail Changes His Plea at Last Minute”

  1. Mark says:

    undocumented = illegal This CRIMINAL needs to return to his home.

  2. Chris A Pickett says:

    Sounds like a violent guy. Just the kind of people we want in this country ILLEGALLY!

  3. Anonymous says:


  4. hawkeye says:

    If he actually is a non citizen/undocumented alien, why aren’t we sending him back to mexico? As it is right now, we, the taxpayers are supporting him while he is in jail. Whether or not he is guilty of what he is charged with, he doesn’t belong here if he hasn’t entered the country through the proper channel. I am sure sending him back will be more punishment than being in an American jail.

  5. Gkimp says:

    A Judge can’t ask “are you a U.S. Citizen? Unbelievable!

  6. Fredddy says:

    If he is illegally here in the US he should just plead no contest on the charge and turn him over to immigration to be deported and save the money we spend on trials.

  7. Just the truth says:

    Tell that to Trump.

  8. Bc. says:

    Send him back ASAP.

  9. Layla says:

    How many illegals are currently incarcerated in the state at the moment? Does anybody know? Why are we being forced to pay for and house these people?

    It’s a valid question.

  10. tulip says:

    Why should we pay to support this criminal while he awaits trial? He’s illegal, he should be deported, period.

  11. fredrick says:

    Have him move in with Nancy or Chucky or a mayor of a “sanctuary” city. Or perhaps their is a local liberal who would like to sponsor him and provide him a room?

  12. Brian says:

    Build the Wall!

  13. Born and Raised Here says:

    If he goes to trail, and is found guilty. Wouldn’t he be considered a criminal, and a threat to the United States, which would result in immediate deportation in accordance to the President’s crackdown on immigrants who are criminals and considered dangerous.

  14. Richard says:

    We have plenty of home grown criminals here already so tell me why we need to allow undocumented illegal crime laden criminals roaming our streets and cities. Save the money and time, deport him immediately. If he returns shoot to kill on sight. I am so sick and tired of hearing about these undocumented illegal immigrants that come here not to make their lives better or our country better which never happens because they have only one purpose in mind and that is to commit crimes, steal, kill, etc, whatever. Get rid of them!

  15. Anonymous says:

    GKIMP- Why can’t a Judge ask if someone is a Citizen, it is asked by many on applications, including the voter registration application. Can’t have it both ways.

  16. Outsider says:

    So he’s here illegally, hanging out with other criminals who are in possession of illegal drugs, AND he’s been arrested for assault. Why do we need this man here? We have enough home-grown jackasses here already. Get rid of him. I pay for enough losers already.

  17. Concerned Citizen says:

    If he committed the crime and is found guilty he should be punished accordingly. Then when the sentence is served he can be deported. All to often “Undocumented Aliens” come here commit violent crimes and then get a free pass.

    I understand as a history major the concept America was founded on. I also understand that Immigrants often come here with legitimate intent to make a better life for themselves. When those Immigrants do the right thing and get the necessary documents and live legal lives more power to them.

    The ones I have issues with are the ones who sneak in here (often due to a criminal past back home) then work without paying taxes and go to commit crimes. Then they get a free pass back home just to come back and do it again.

    If you or I have to pay taxes and obey laws to live here then everyone else should as well. Why should I support criminals when there are others more deserving?

  18. Mark says:

    @ Richard It comes down to votes for the liberal agenda.

  19. can'tfoolme says:

    If Judge Craig is not allowed to ask him if he is an illegal, then why should Craig have to warn him that he would be deported if found guilty…….this should qualify for a “don’t ask, don’t tell”! I agree that he should be deported immediately but he would probably just re-enter the U.S. illegally again bringing more drugs with him……hope he was charged for that, too.

  20. mark101 says:

    assault charge , non US citizen deport him. No question asked.

  21. Lilly Makarov says:

    Deport illegal immigrants and BUILD THE WALL!!

  22. An Honest American says:

    Why is an illegal immigrant getting a trial at the tax payers expense. He does not deserve a trial.
    The only one benefiting is the attorney defending him and the interpreter. Our laws have to change.

  23. Layla says:

    Wow, I thought it was just me. Looks like everybody is sick and tired of being taken advantage of.

  24. Bucknasty says:

    Back to Tijuana you go

  25. Rosie O'Donnell says:

    Bye bye

  26. Instigator says:

    Undocumented immigrants are a tool the left uses to soften the ILLEGAL alien invader hammer of the right. We put President Trump in Office for exactly what he is doing. If he is able to get his plans through, the mid term elections are going to be a slaughter, and not for the Liberals. Man the border with National Guard until the wall is built.

  27. woodchuck says:


  28. Brian Smith says:

    There you go, a typical DACA applicant. I left California to get away from this exact thing.

  29. K. Schure says:

    Why are we keeping him here. We don’t need these illegals here to cost taxpayers money

  30. Anonymous says:

    No doubt the Democrats think he should stay because he is in the USA and is dreaming….dreaming about who he is going to rip off next. Send him back and gather up every other illegal and send them back. These people don’t want to follow the rules like other people have who have gone through the steps to become citizens so they don’t deserve to be here. They can dream somewhere else. To avoid the laws and requirements is reason enough that he and all the other illegals should be sent back. Some have been here for 20 years and we American’s have been paying for them to be here. They get help and money that American’s can’t get—SEND HIM BACK!!!

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