Seventh Circuit Vacates Sentence Based on Judge’s “Inflammatory Remarks” at Sentencing Hearing

Convicted in the Eastern District of Wisconsin of trafficking in cocaine, Jose Figueroa was sentenced to 235 months in prison, which was at the low end of the applicable guidelines range.  The Seventh Circuit, however, vacated and remanded for resentencing in United States v. Figueroa (No. 09-3333) (Wood, J.). The problem was purely procedural:

[The district court’s] extraneous and inflammatory comments during the sentencing hearing . . . cast doubt on the validity of the sentence.  During the heraing, the district court digressed to discuss Figueroa’s native Mexico, the immigration status of Figueroa and his sisters, and the conditions and laws in half a dozen other countries — not to mention unnecessary referencs to Hugo Chavez, Iranian terrorists, and Adolf Hitler’s dog.  We have no way of knowing how, if at all, these irrelevant considerations affected Figueroa’s sentence.  We therefore must remand, to ensure that the district court’s choice of sentence was based only on the criteria that Congress has authorized.