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Judges ‘disturbed’ by linking of drugs to defendant’s nationality

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Even though the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was “disturbed” by a government agent’s improperly admitted testimony linking a defendant’s Mexican nationality to the methamphetamine at issue, the court declined to grant a new trial.

Juan Ramirez-Fuentes was charged and convicted of one count each of possession with the intent to distribute 500 grams or more of methamphetamine and possessing firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. He received 295 months in prison. The convictions are based on Ramirez-Fuentes’ admittance that 3.1 kilograms of methamphetamine and two firearms found at his brother’s apartment were actually his.

In United States of America v. Juan Ramirez-Fuentes, 12-1494, he argued that the District Court in Hammond erred in admitting testimony from Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Jon Johnson, who described the recovered drug as “Mexican methamphetamine,” which he noted is produced by “Mexican nationals;” and Johnson’s testimony about violence associated with drug trafficking. Ramirez-Fuentes’ attorney did not object to that testimony at trial, so the 7th Circuit examined it for plain error.

“We find unconvincing Ramirez-Fuentes’s argument that the district court should have excluded Agent Johnson’s testimony about drug trafficking under Rule 403 because it caused jurors to associate Ramirez-Fuentes with violent behavior,” Judge Joel Flaum wrote. “Agent Johnson’s discussion of the relationship between guns and drugs, during which time he referenced the violence that is part of the drug trade, was highly probative of Ramirez-Fuentes’s guilt on the firearm possession charge and any potential for prejudice was slight.”

But the judges were not pleased with the court allowing Johnson’s testimony regarding the “Mexican” nature of the methamphetamine. The 7th Circuit agreed with other Circuit courts that had held the admission of government-proffered testimony tying the race or ethnicity of a defendant to the racial or ethnic characteristics of a special drug trade is improper.

“Here, Agent Johnson made unnecessary and avoidable references to Ramirez-Fuentes’s nationality in response to questions from the prosecution. The references to 'Mexican methamphetamine' invited the jury, albeit implicitly, to consider Ramirez-Fuentes’s nationality in reaching its decision in the case. Thus, even if the evidence was at all relevant under Rule 401, it should have nonetheless been excluded under Rule 403 because of the danger of unfair prejudice inherent in its admission,” Flaum wrote.

But under plain error review, Ramirez-Fuentes hasn’t shown probable acquittal but for the District Court’s error. He confessed to possession of the drugs and guns, and he also admitted he had been given money in exchange for holding on to the drugs, which he hid in his brother’s apartment.

The appellate court rejected Ramirez-Fuentes’ arguments that his imprisonment is unreasonably long and because of his convictions, he will ultimately be deported. The District judge did consider the defendant’s family circumstances when sentencing him and imposed a sentence on the low end of the guideline range. The 7th Circuit saw no reason to overturn the sentence.

 

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  • Tainted jury!
    I realize commenting here is a total waste of time but I am going to do it one more time on the slim chance someone with a brain may read it. This case would not have happened if we kept mexican ilegals out of the country, even Mexicans that are here legally don't want mexican illegals here and if they weren't given amnesty, the drug trade in the U.S. would be greatly reduced. Illegals are law breakers and giving them amnesty promotes criminal activity. It also sets a precedent, if illegal aliens(criminals) get amnesty then all criminals should get amnesty, so unlock the prison cells!

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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