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Law of Criminal Defense - CA7: Judge's foot in mouth at sentencing gets resentencing; judge gone off deep end?

CA7: Judge's foot in mouth at sentencing gets resentencing; judge gone off deep end?

09/15/10

Permalink 07:14:05 am, by forhall, 474 words, 4206 views   English (US)
Categories: blog

CA7: Judge's foot in mouth at sentencing gets resentencing; judge gone off deep end?

Not really relevant to this website, but too strange to not include:

A District Judge wanders off the reservation during a sentencing and belittles an Hispanic drug defendant referring to him and his family as "you people" and sounding like he was cracking up. United States v. Figueroa, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 19060 (7th Cir. September 13, 2010). These are the two introductory paragraphs. The actual opinion makes one wonder whether the judge should just retire.

There was little out of the ordinary in Jose Figueroa's trial and conviction. Figueroa was charged with leading a multimillion-dollar drug conspiracy in Wisconsin from 2005 to 2008. A jury convicted him of one count of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute it and one count of distribution of cocaine. Although he challenges one evidentiary decision in this appeal, we find no merit in that argument.

Figueroa's sentencing was another matter. The district court sentenced Figueroa to 235 months' imprisonment. This represented the low end of Figueroa's advisory guidelines range, and so on its face there is nothing remarkable about his sentence either. But the process the district court used to get there--in particular, its extraneous and inflammatory comments during the sentencing hearing--cast doubt on the validity of the sentence. During the hearing, the district court digressed to discuss Figueroa's native Mexico, the immigration status of Figueroa and his sisters, and the conditions and laws in half a dozen other countries--not to mention unnecessary references to Hugo Chavez, Iranian terrorists, and Adolf Hitler's dog. We have no way of knowing how, if at all, these irrelevant considerations affected Figueroa's sentence. We therefore must remand, to ensure that the district court's choice of sentence was based only on the criteria that Congress has authorized. See 18 U.S.C. § 3553.

The concurrence:

Judges sometimes get carried away and say things they should not say. I agree with my colleagues that the judge in this case said things that he should not have said. And what was said, I agree, marred the procedural aspects of Figueroa's sentencing proceeding.

Having said that, however, I do not think that what the judge actually did, as opposed to what he said, demonstrated an intent to lay the wood to Figueroa or otherwise treat him unfairly. The sentence the judge imposed, which was at the lowest point of Figueroa's advisory guideline range, looks to be reasonable. If the judge truly wanted to stick it to Figueroa, he could have said nothing out of the ordinary and imposed a sentence, still within the guideline range, that was 58 months longer than the one actually ordered. With that being the case, we might very well have a no harm-no foul situation. Yet Figueroa is entitled, procedurally, to a cleaner hearing than the one he got so I join my colleagues in returning this case to a new judge for a fresh hearing.

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