Friday, March 3rd, 2023

Circuit orders resentencing in light of statements that created a risk of the appearance that a defendant’s nationality impacted his sentence.

In United States v. Vasquez-Drew, No. 20-2195-cr (2d Cir. March 2, 2023) (summary order), the Second Circuit ordered the defendant resentenced before a new district judge because certain remarks the original judge made at sentencing created a “risk that a reasonable observer … ‘might infer, however incorrectly’ that Vasquez’s nationality played a role in determining his sentence.”

In sentencing the defendant, a Bolivian national, the district court (Cote, J.) stated that the sentence was “motivated by concerns about appropriate punishment, but also general deterrence,” and that it was “important” “that the people in Bolivia understand the kind of sentences that are potentially imposed here from engagement in activity to send cocaine into America.”

This decision follows an interesting and wide-ranging oral argument available here and previewed here.

Ultimately, the Circuit’s short summary order hewed closely to precedent: “[E]ven the appearance that the sentence reflects a defendant’s race or nationality will ordinarily require a remand for resentencing.” Thus, while the Court expressed confidence that “the experienced district judge harbored no actual bias against Vasquez” the judge’s comments and Circuit precedents required a resentencing. The Court also found that “the appearance of justice” would be best satisfied by following its “usual practice and assigning the resentencing to a different judge.”

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