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July 28, 2008

Fifth Circuit Mostly Affirms in Controversial Border Agents Case

As previewed in this post, a Fifth Circuit panel today decided the appeals of U.S. Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, who were sentenced to prison terms of 11 and 12 years, respectively, for shooting an illegal alien drug smuggler.  While the Court's ruling (found here) vacates the agents’ convictions on five counts relating to obstruction of justice, it leaves untouched their mandatory 10-year terms for using a gun in relation to the commission of a crime of violence.  The Court's roadmap is excerpted here:


           On appeal, we will address some of the errors, legal and evidentiary, alleged to have been committed by the trial court. Many arguments are made by the agents. We will address their primary arguments and we will find merit in some. Accordingly, we will reverse and vacate the convictions on some counts and vacate the sentences on those counts. However, this may not be of much moment to Ramos and Compean because we leave the major conviction with the major sentence—18 U.S.C. § 924(c)—untouched.

            In this prefatory statement we should note that the rather lengthy sentences imposed on the defendants—eleven years and a day and twelve years respectively—result primarily from their convictions under § 924(c). Why? Because Congress directed a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years for all defendants convicted under this statute, i.e., using a gun in relation to the commission of a crime of violence. The underlying crime of violence with which the defendants were charged is assault within the special territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Once the defendants were charged by the government and convicted by the jury under this statute, the district court had no discretion but to impose at least a ten-year sentence. Thus, the sentences in this case reflect the mandatory ten years for violation of § 924(c), and one year and a day and two years, respectively, for the remaining several convictions.

            The defendants were convicted for assault, discharge of a weapon in the commission of a crime of violence, tampering with an official proceeding, and deprivation of civil rights. We AFFIRM all convictions except those for tampering with an official proceeding, which we VACATE. We REMAND for resentencing.

With the Court unable to budge on these lengthy mandatory minimums, perhaps we can expect this case to join the backlog of pardon petitions now pending before President Bush.  There is nothing quite like bipartisan support to spur much needed sentencing reform.

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Hopefully the Victims Rights Industry will speak out for the victims of this terrible crime.

Posted by: S.cute.us | Jul 28, 2008 7:23:08 PM

Of related interest, discussion about the decision:

Posted by: just surfing | Jul 28, 2008 7:34:29 PM

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