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Undocumented student found guilty of driving without a license

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN
  • 22-year-old Jessica Colotl became a lighting rod in immigration debate this year
  • The conviction carries maximum of 12 months in jail
  • Her lawyer says Colotl will appeal the decision

(CNN) -- An undocumented student from Mexico who was arrested and held in a deportation facility after she was stopped for a minor traffic violation in Georgia was found guilty on Thursday of driving without a license.

A jury in Cobb County, Georgia also found 22-year-old Jessica Colotl not guilty of impeding traffic, the reason police gave for pulling her over on the campus of Kennesaw State University.

Conviction on the misdemeanor charge of driving without a license is punishable by up to a year in jail, said her lawyer, Jerome Lee.

The conviction includes a mandatory minimum of 48 hours in jail, of which Colotl has already served around 45 1/2, Lee said.

Lee said that Colotl plans to appeal the verdict.

Colotl became a lightning rod in the immigration debate last spring, when advocates for immigration reform said her case was a symbol of a broken system.

On Thursday, Lee said that she had recently obtained a learner's permit, which he said was grounds to dismiss the misdemeanor charge under Georgia law.

"The jury essentially refused to properly read the statute, as juries often do," he said.

Colotl's legal problems started in late March when her car was stopped on the campus of Kennesaw State.

Born in Mexico but living in the United States since she was 11, she could not produce a driver's license, so she handed over as identification an expired passport from Mexico.

She was arrested the next day and turned over to immigration officials.

She spent more than a month in the Etowah Detention Center in Alabama.

Friends came out in force and marched on campus in her defense. In May, she was released, and her deportation was deferred for a year, which will allow her to finish her studies.

But she was quickly arrested on a warrant for the Cobb County Sheriff's Office and released on $2,500 bail.

"I'm just trying to live the American dream and finish my education," she said at the time.

On Thursday, Lee said that other than completing college, his client's plans for the future are unclear.

"There are so many variables in terms of what's going to happen," he said, "that it's a little too early to say."