“A comedy of sentencing errors”: defendant’s appeal results in higher sentence

"A comedy of sentencing errors": defendant's appeal results in higher sentenceDownload the opinion: U.S. v. Sevilla-Oyola

Carlos Sevilla Oyola was indicted and charged with one count of conspiring to possess narcotics with intent to distribute and one count of aiding and abetting his co-conspirators in the use and carriage of firearms in relation to a drug-trafficking crime. Sevilla Oyola struck a plea deal that landed him in prison with a life sentence.

To dictate sentence, Judge José A. Fusté considered testimony indicating that Sevilla Oyola was responsible for the notorious murder of Manuel “Pitufo” Torres Morales, which took place in front of the Puerto Rico Federal Courthouse in 2007. No one has yet been charged with that murder. Judge Fusté, for the Puerto Rico District, wasn’t bound by the plea agreement between Sevilla Oyola and the government. The agreement didn’t stipulate any adjustments to the base offense level agreed upon based on Sevilla Oyola’s criminal history.

When Sevilla Oyola struck a plea bargain with the government, he was under the impression that he might get as little as 10 years in prison or as many as 85. That is because the judge had failed to explain to Sevilla Oyola that one of the counts carried the possibility of life in prison. The judge had also failed to mention Sevilla Oyola didn’t qualify for probation, suspended sentence or parole.

Sevilla Oyola challenged the first sentence based on Pitufo’s murder. In spite of the challenge, Judge Fusté changed the life sentence to 85 years total by his own initiative. Sevilla Oyola again challenged that sentence, and Judge Fusté amended the sentence to a total of 33 years and 9 months.

Sevilla Oyola then filed a notice of appeal to the Circuit, claiming, amongst other things, that Judge Fusté had no authority to amend the sentence, that the plea proceedings were defective and that the final sentence was unreasonable.

This is Sevilla Oyola’s second appeal to the Circuit Court. The first appeal concluded with the court reinstating the first sentence, life imprisonment. The Circuit Court vacated this order on the basis that Sevilla Oyola’s counsel didn’t fully appreciate the possibility that the sentence could be worse after the appeal. According to the order, the sentencing task has gone back to Judge Fusté.

In his dissent, Circuit Judge Juan R. Torruella calls this case “a comedy of sentencing errors”, criticizing the court’s logic in not considering Sevilla Oyola’s assertion and arguments for withdrawing the plea altogether (the court refused to consider this form of relief because of a technicality). Sevilla Oyola’s counsel had clearly established that had Sevilla Oyola known he was subject to a life sentence, he would not have agreed to the plea deal.

Judge Torruella also criticized the court for remanding the case for resentencing by the same judge. Judge Torruella contends the sentencing judge is clearly already biased in this case against Carlos Sevilla Oyola.

Summary: Cristian González

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