Are Illegal Immigrants Mocking Legal System?

7NEWS Confronts Unlicensed, Uninsured Drivers

There's an untold number of drivers ignoring the laws and a legal system that's allowing it to happen.

David Leigh received physical injuries and financial liabilities when he was involved in a crash with an illegal immigrant.

"I was hit by an uninsured, unlicensed driver," he said. "The lady that was driving didn't speak any English."

Police reports show that the other driver had no insurance and no valid license.

"Really, the only three things she was able to say was, 'I'm sorry. I have no license. I have no insurance,'" Leigh said.

Leigh was left holding the medical bills, paying the car repair bills and wondering how many other drivers are out there who are in a similar situation.

Looking inside Denver's traffic court, 7NEWS learned that the answer is many and while many illegal immigrants are hard working and simply trying to support their families, the city of Denver and state of Colorado have no real systems in place to help in this scenario. Under the current systems, illegal immigrants have no simple way to get driver's licenses or insurance so they are left with a difficult choice and others are left with little recourse in the event of an accident.

"You are charged with driving without a license, driving without insurance. Charges are a three-point deduction. No valid driver's license," the magistrate explained to Jorge De La Cruz in court.

De La Cruz has offended three different times, and on the day that he was in court, he pleaded guilty.

Court records show De La Cruz was driving without a license and insurance in May 2004, driving without a license and insurance in February 2006 and driving without a license in October 2006.

Minutes after he pleaded guilty in court, he was once again behind the wheel.

When 7NEWS Investigator Tony Kovaleski confronted De La Cruz as he was about to drive away from the courthouse, De La Cruz admitted he doesn't have a license to drive in Colorado.

"I have the Mexican license," De La Cruz said.

Kovaleski: "You were just in the courtroom."

De La Cruz: "I was in the courtroom."

Kovaleski: "You told the judge that you don't have a license. And you're driving?"

De La Cruz nodded his head.

Kovaleski: "So the rules don't matter?"

De La Cruz: "No. Yeah, yeah! I need to -- "

And then he drove away without a license and without a license plate.

"You told the officer you'd lived here six years, so how do you plead to the charge of driving without a valid license?" the magistrate asked another defendant, Israel Gonzalez.

Gonzalez responded, "Guilty."

Gonzalez's record includes driving without a license twice in 2006. Minutes after he left the courtroom, 7NEWS found him in the driver's seat.

That was the same situation with Urbano Bustos. In court he pleaded guilty to driving without a license. It was his second conviction.

Bustos told the magistrate that he has driven for five years without a license and without insurance. A few minutes later, he is behind the wheel again and when asked about why he was driving when he didn't have a Colorado license, he shrugged.

"It's very disturbing," said Denver police Detective Nick Rogers. "They are not being held accountable."

"They are obviously ignoring the system," said Denver County Courts' presiding Judge Andy Armatas. "I think anybody who comes to court and drives away, regardless of where they are from, if you want to categorize it as mocking, I guess they are mocking."

Ernesto Franco was in court, admitting that he was driving without a license. It was his third time. And yet he, too, drove away from the courthouse.

"So when you drive off, you're going to break the law," Kovaleski said, confronting Franco.

"Probably, yes. Thank you, sir," Franco said.

"Somebody needs to take this as a serious problem and they need to deal with it," Rogers said.

So what is the solution?

Armatas said one option available for multiple offenders is jail time, but he said there is not enough room in Denver's jails.

Some states, like California, are examining options for immigrants to obtain driver's licenses and insurance, so everyone is protected. Colorado has no such system in place, as of now.

7NEWS asked Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper to review 7NEWS' investigation and address the issues. If you want changes, 7NEWS invites you to call or e-mail the mayor. His e-mail is MileHighMayor@ci.denver.co.us. You can reach him by calling 311.

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