Automatic Sentences for Illegal Workers Challenged

The Public Defender's Office last week filed a request to petition the High Court on what it called the Be'er Sheva Magistrate's Court's "automatic price tag" of three months imprisonment or more for unlawful entry into Israel, stating the policy violates previous High Court rulings.

Mohammed Faragin, a resident of the West Bank village of Surif, was caught on March 22 working in an agricultural area owned by Moshav Kfar Harif without proper documentation for a daily wage of NIS 100.

Although he had no prior criminal record, the Kiryat Gat Magistrate's Court sentenced him four days later to 15 days of full imprisonment and three months suspended sentence.

The state appealed what it viewed as the leniency of the sentence, and four days before Faragin was scheduled to be released a three-judge panel in Be'er Sheva court extended his incarceration by three months.

Last week, deputy public defender Dr. Yoav Sapir and attorney Yishai Sharon filed the petition request, claiming courts in the southern region consistently levied heavy punishments "automatically," often for more than three months, in violation of the principle of treating cases on an individual basis.

The Be'er Sheva court based its ruling on a decision reached by the High Court's 2006 "Abu Salam" ruling.

The attorneys stated that the previous ruling related to security violations involving the smuggling and organization of unauthorized residents, not the entry of a single individual for the purpose of gainful employment.

Sapir and Sharon quoted former Supreme Court deputy president Mishael Cheshin's opinion that "the Supreme Court can, nevertheless, determine an appropriate penalization policy, as well as other necessary procedures to uphold rulings that have been passed."

In the request, the attorneys wrote, "determining an 'automatic price tag' of three months imprisonment or more, even in the face of extenuating circumstances such as a difficult economic situation, entry to Israel for the purpose of work and livelihood, and the absence of a prior criminal record" is not in keeping with the Supreme Court's policy, and asked the court to dismiss the extended sentence.

Justice Salim Joubran ordered the request to be presented for a hearing before a three-judge panel on April 22.