Illegal immigrant drug offenders face deportation, prison or both
In December, police arrested Jesus Gabriel Soto Sandoval in the drug sting at two local restaurants. Less than six months after his deportation, Sandoval was back in Aspen and in custody for cocaine possession. So, deport him again and save the cost of prison or punish him so he won’t come back for a third crack at dealing cocaine out the back door of an Aspen restaurant?It’s a question members of law enforcement and the legal community differ on greatly. For example, in a separate case Thursday, Jose de Fletes Rodriguez was sentenced to five years of probation for possession of less than one gram of cocaine. He was arrested in a traffic stop after a tip from undercover DEA agents in the latest Aspen-area sting operation – known as the “wiretap case.””It’s one of those cases of plead and deport,” said his attorney, Arnie Mordkin.In Soto Sandoval’s case, it’s not so simple the second time around. The first time, authorities caught him with a half gram of cocaine while working at Little Annie’s Eating House, and he pleaded guilty to possession in a bargain that resulted in dropping the charges of dealing cocaine and conspiracy to deal. Six months later, police caught him with cocaine while he was working at Campo de Fiori. “My clear position is that this is his second time on a drug felony within a year ,” said Gail Nichols, assistant district attorney. “He needs to be punished or he’ll just come back and do it again.”But Soto Sandoval’s sentencing hearing hit a snag Thursday because the minimum sentence for a second drug offense while on parole is four years in prison. Further, he will go straight from this decision back into the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where he will likely face federal prison time for unlawful re-entry by a felon. “One half of all our criminal caseload is related to immigration; that is a significant change over the last five years,” said Troy Eid, the U.S. attorney for Colorado. Though the vast majority of prosecutions for re-entry are of violent felons, some drug crimes can be considered violent, Eid said. Eid has committed to taking all cases of felons who have re-entered America illegally.”The U.S. Attorney’s Office has historically prosecuted people who have re-entered and have prior felonies,” said Eid’s spokesman, Jeff Dorschner. “Under Troy Eid’s leadership, that has become a top priority.”Greg Greer, a public defender representing Soto Sandoval, said re-entry cases are better for padding a prosecutor’s statistics than for helping society. The U.S. attorney can seem tough on crime by upping convictions because proof that a violent felon re-entered after deportation can be simple. “It’s a slam-dunk and an easy conviction statistic for any prosecutor,” Greer said. “You keep him for an extra two years, then keep him in fed prison for two years … then deport him. It’s an awful lot of resources to use. Prison is expensive.”Both Nichols and Greer agree every case is different and there is a lot of discretion in charging the criminals. They also agreed that in a case like Soto Sandoval’s, all the possible punitive measures need to be taken into account. Hence, Nichols and Greer put off Soto Sandoval’s sentencing for two more weeks while they figure out what to ask for. “I’m hearing from friends who do federal defense work that they are prosecuting these cases a lot,” Greer said. “I have heard this valley is a source of a large number of them.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
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