Monica Ramos embraces her husband, former U.S. Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos, two days before he was sentenced to 11 years in prison (Courtesy El Paso Times)
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals today affirmed the major counts against former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, reversing only a minor obstruction of justice count.
Ramos and Compean are serving 11- and 12-year prison sentences, respectively, after a jury convicted them of violating federal gun laws and covering up the shooting of a drug smuggler as he fled back to Mexico after driving across the border with 743 pounds of marijuana in February 2005. U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton’s office gave the smuggler, Osbaldo Aldrete-Davila, immunity to serve as the government’s star witness and testify against the border agents.
The agents were convicted for assault, discharge of a weapon in the
commission of a crime of violence, tampering with an official proceeding and
deprivation of civil rights.
The court affirmed all convictions except for tampering with an official proceeding, which it vacated and remanded for resentencing.
The bulk of their sentences, however, stem from a mandatory 10-year minimum sentence imposed by Congress for anyone convicted of discharging a weapon in the commission of a crime. Only a reversal of that count could remove 10 years from their sentences.
The last remaining level of appeal for Ramos and Compean is the U.S. Supreme Court.
The families of the former agents were devastated upon hearing the decision, and Joe Loya, father-in-law to Ramos, told WND the families intend to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, told WND the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans made a “bad decision” in siding with the word of a now-convicted drug smuggler rather than the two Border Patrol agents.
Poe, deeply disappointed and clearly upset by the appellate court decision, told WND he would encourage Ramos and Compean to have their lawyers make a further appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Poe said he plans to introduce legislation immediately to clarify Section 924(c).
“It was never the intent of the Congress to have U.S.C. Section 924(c) apply to law enforcement officers,” he said.
The appellate court reversed and vacated only the convictions for obstruction of justice under Section 1512(c), ruling “the Border Patrol investigation was not an ‘official proceeding’ within the meaning of the statute.”
The court affirmed counts one through five and 11 and 12, meaning the convictions and sentences stand for the charges that Ramos and Compean violated Aldrete-Davila’s civil rights and were guilty of aggravating the crime by discharging their firearms.
“For the most part, the trial of this case was about credibility,” the court wrote in its unanimous decision, “and although the jury could have gone either way, it chose not to believe the defendants’ version of the crucial events of February 17. The trial of the case was conducted fairly and without reversible error.”
WND previously reported the prosecuting attorney, U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton in El Paso, Texas, had allowed Aldrete-Davila to testify against Ramos and Compean despite Department of Homeland Security investigative reports tying the smugger to what became known as the “second load.” Aldrete-Davila allegedly smuggled another 750 pounds of marijuana into the U.S. in October 2005, while he had been granted a DHS-issued border pass card and immunity to testify at the agent’s trial.
District Judge Kathleen Cardone at the trial ruled the defense was not allowed to present the jury with any information about the second load, and Aldrete-Davila was shielded from questions about it.
WND also reported that at the trial, prosecutors allowed Aldrete-Davila to testify he was an inexperienced drug smuggler who only committed the one offense, because he had lost his commercial drivers license in Mexico, and his sick mother needed medicine he could not afford to buy.
But the appeals court said, “The exclusion of evidence relating to the size of the marijuana load and Aldrete-Davila’s alleged involvement in drug-trafficking events of October 2005 did not violate the defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights to present a complete defense nor did it deny them a proper cross-examination of a witness against them.”
In ruling that the Section 924(c) indictment was not defective, the court said, “[The defendants] were denied no right of due process for lack of notice that Section 924(c) could be applied to police officers while performing law enforcement duties. Nor was the Section 924(c) indictment defective. Moreover, the defendants were properly convicted of substantive crimes, not for violating Border Patrol policies.”
The court said once “the defendants were charged by the government and convicted by the jury under this statute, the district court had no discretion but to impose at least a ten-year sentence. Thus, the sentences in this case reflect the mandatory ten years for violation of Section 924(c), and one year and a day and two years, respectively, for the remaining convictions.”
In vacating only the convictions under the obstruction of justice indictments, the appellate court remanded for re-sentencing only the “one year and a day and two years” part of the sentence that did not derive from the mandatory 10-year sentencing requirements under Section 924(c).