An attorney for one of the accused Marines asserted that the decision prevented the men from missing out on a fair trial.
“It sends a signal to the government,” lawyer Bethany Payton-O’Brien said. “I’m not going to tolerate, and we should not tolerate, a command basically imposing the verdict before the court is ever held.”
The Marines were arrested en masse in July during a battalion formation at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, which was witnessed by more than 800 people. Video of the arrest was released and shared last week.
Two Marines, Lance Cpl. Byron Law and Lance Cpl. David Javier Salazar-Quintero, were pulled over by Border Patrol officers on July 3 and were found to have three unauthorized migrants in their vehicle. The immigrants claimed they had made a deal to pay the Marines $8,000 to get them to locations in Los Angeles and New Jersey.
Both men were charged by the US District Court for the Southern District of California. The following 16 arrests were said to have been a result of an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which extracted incriminating details from the phones of Law and Salazar-Quintero.
It was not immediately clear if the military judge’s decision to condemn the July mass arrest as unlawful would have any impact on crimes the Marines were charged with.
“The public humiliation of my client and others in the case was wrong,” Payton-O’Brien also said. “It was illegal, and the Marine Corps’ attempt to try to influence the outcome of this case and poison the jury pool.”
Charges against three of the arrested Marines were dropped by prosecutors, according to reports.