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.



  • 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. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues