Border crossing

A Mexican man, accused of trying to bring drugs across the Canada-U.S. border at Osoyoos, shown here, has chosen to be tried by judge alone. The trial will begin Nov. 4 in Kelowna.

The paperwork has still to be done, but an accused Mexican drug mule has opted for trial by judge alone rather than face a jury.

Armando Esparza-Ochoa did not appear in a Kelowna courtroom on Tuesday, either in person or via video link from the Lower Mainland prison where he is being held.

But the Crown and the defence lawyer told the judge that Esparza-Ochoa, who was arrested at the Canada-U.S. border near Osoyoos on Sept. 1, 2018, now wants a trial by judge alone.

The judge said Esparza-Ochoa, 31, must sign papers confirming the change by next Tuesday. The trial has been set for Nov. 4-8 in Kelowna.

Esparza-Ochoa, a Mexican citizen, does not speak English. He is charged with importing a controlled substance, possession for the purposes of trafficking, and failing to report at a Customs office.

Shortly after he was arrested, Esparza-Ochoa told a provincial court judge in Penticton that he wanted to plead guilty and be sentenced.

However, the Crown refused that request, saying it was important that Esparza-Ochoa have time to consult a lawyer, read legal documents after they were translated into Spanish and fully understand the gravity of the charges against him.

The offences are said to involve multiple kilograms of methamphetamines. The maximum penalty under federal drug laws is life in prison.

Esparza-Ochoa is being held in custody because he is considered a flight risk.

In 2016, another Mexican citizen, Alexis Joel Garcia Palomino, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in federal prison after trying to smuggle methamphetamine and heroin into Canada near the Osoyoos border crossing.

At Palomino’s sentencing, court heard he had gotten mixed up with a drug cartel and was forced to serve as a drug mule under threat of death against him and his family.