(CN) – A man convicted of trafficking cocaine will be resentenced after a federal judge made a slew of inflammatory comments about his Mexican heritage, including tangential references to Iranian terrorists, Hugo Chavez and Adolf Hitler’s dog.
Jose Figueroa was convicted of running a multimillion-dollar cocaine operation in Wisconsin. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa sentenced him to almost 20 years, the low end of the guidelines range.
Figueroa appealed, saying he was discriminated against on the basis of his national origin. He challenged both the pre-sentencing remarks and a search of his home, which led to the discovery of $50,000 cash and large quantities of cocaine.
The 7th Circuit rejected Figueroa’s nonconsensual search claim based on his own courtroom testimony, but found Judge Randa’s comments to be out of line and ordered resentencing.
Noting Figueroa’s Mexican descent, Randa had made a number of comments about Mexico’s contribution to drug and immigration issues in the United States, angrily referring to Figueroa and his family as “you people” several times.
Randa linked the Mexican drug trade to Colombia and Venezuela, and then to Iranian terrorists through Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He further commented that Figueroa was lucky to be headed to a U.S. prison, rather than a Mexican or Turkish one, and explained that in Malaysia or Thailand, Figueroa’s conduct could have resulted in execution.
When Figueroa tried to explain that he was a good family man, Randa replied that “even Adolf Hitler was admired by his family. Adolf Hitler loved his dog. Yet he killed 6 million Jews.”
The 7th Circuit said the remarks called into question the judge’s impartiality in sentencing Figueroa.
“We understand that sentencing is an individual, and at times idiosyncratic, process,” Circuit Judge Diane Wood wrote. “And we recognize that the district court judge may have been frustrated by Figueroa’s lack of remorse and his arguments about the unfairness of his predicament. But this does not excuse the court from its duty to ensure a fair process.”
She said Randa’s process “was so far out of bounds that Figueroa is entitled to resentencing.”
The court did not rule on whether Figueroa’s original sentence was reasonable.