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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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