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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Drug Sentencing Case to Go Before Full 9th Circuit

(CN) - The 9th Circuit will convene a full, 11-judge panel to reconsider a ruling requiring federal judges to defer to state-level probation orders when determining whether a criminal is eligible for relief from minimum sentences.

A three-judge panel of the federal appeals court ruled last summer in a methamphetamine-smuggling case that "the federal district courts in calculating criminal history points for purposes of safety valve eligibility must credit state orders terminating probationary sentences."

A conviction for importation of methamphetamine carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison, unless the convicted person qualifies for so-called "safety valve relief." A defendant with more than one "criminal history point" is not eligible for such relief.

The case concerns David Yepez and Audenago Acosta-Montes, who were convicted in federal court for smuggling methamphetamine while on probation for minor state-level offenses. Hoping to avoid the mandatory sentences, they convinced California judges to retroactively terminate their probationary sentences so they could qualify for safety valve relief.

The original panel approved the move, but a majority of nonrecused judges voted on Thursday to take another look at the issue before an en banc panel.

The San Francisco-based appeals court also voted Thursday to gather a full, 11-judge panel to reconsider the immigration appeal of Mexican national Francisco Garfias-Rodriguez.

A three-judge panel upheld the Board of Immigration Appeals' removal order against Garfias-Rodriguez last year, finding that aliens previously found inadmissible for illegally entering the country cannot seek adjustment of their status under the marriage exception.

Garfias-Rodriguez unlawfully entered the United States in 1996, crossing back and forth several times over the years without inspection. He unsuccessfully applied for lawful permanent resident status after marrying a U.S. citizen in 2002.

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