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7th Circuit: judge erred when sentencing man

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered an Indiana District Court to take another look at a man’s sentence because the judge cited incorrect information during sentencing.

Juan Corona-Gonzalez was convicted of possession with intent to distribute, distribution of 500 grams or more of a mixture containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. Corona-Gonzalez doesn’t appeal his convictions, but his 240-month sentence.

When he was being sentenced, then U.S. District Judge David F. Hamilton made three references to Corona-Gonzalez being deported and returning to the U.S. to deal drugs. But Corona-Gonzalez had originally entered the country legally on a visa and had never been deported. It was his father who was deported following a drug conviction in 2002. The pre-sentence investigation report included that information about the father. Corona-Gonzalez was in the country illegally now because his visa had expired.

At no point during the hearing did Corona-Gonzalez or the government speak up about the inconsistency between the PSR and what the judge said.

Because he didn’t object at the time, the 7th Circuit reviewed the procedural error for plain error and found there was no question that a procedural error occurred during the hearing. This error also affected his substantial rights, wrote Judge Kenneth Ripple in United States of America v. Juan A. Corona-Gonzalez a/k/a Juan R. Ramirez, No. 09-3993.

“Having studied the record and listened to the arguments of counsel, we are left with the firm belief that there is a substantial chance that the district court’s misapprehension played a significant role in the adjudication of the defendant’s sentence,” wrote the judge. “The district court tells us so in the sentencing transcript. …In fact, in stating the reasons for imposing the chosen sentence, the very first factor the court addressed was the supposed removal and reentry.”

The judges decided Corona-Gonzalez deserves the opportunity to have the District Court reassess his sentence. They remanded for the lower court to look at his sentence without including the incorrect statements that he had been deported.

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