Fifth Circuit confirms convictions of border patrol agents News
Fifth Circuit confirms convictions of border patrol agents

[JURIST] A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] has upheld [opinion, PDF] seven out of 12 charges against two US border agents who were found guilty of unlawfully shooting an illegal immigrant smuggling drugs and then trying to cover up the incident. In 2006 Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean [advocacy website] were convicted on charges of assault, discharge of a weapon in the commission of a crime of violence, tampering with an official proceeding, and deprivation of civil rights. The trial court sentenced them to 11 and 12 years in prison respectively after it was found that they failed to report their shooting of Osvaldo Aldrete-Davila, a drug trafficker who had entered the United States illegally and was shot once while fleeing back across the US-Mexico border after border agents disrupted his marijuana delivery. In rejecting the defendants Sixth Amendment and Fifth Amendment [texts] arguments, among others, the court concluded Monday:

For the most part, the trial of this case was about credibility, and although the jury could have gone either way, it chose not to believe the defendants’ version of the crucial events of February 17. The trial of the case was conducted fairly and without reversible error. The exclusion of evidence relating to the size of the marijuana load and Aldrete-Davila’s alleged involvement in drug-trafficking events of October 2005 did not violate the defendants’ Sixth Amendment rights to present a complete defense nor did it deny them a proper cross-examination of a witness against them. They were denied no right of due process for lack of notice that § 924(c) could be applied to police officers while performing law enforcement duties. Nor was the § 924(c) indictment defective. Moreover, the defendants were properly convicted of substantive crimes, not for violating Border Patrol policies. In instructing the jury, no reversible errors were committed and, finally, the evidence fully supports the jury verdict. We therefore affirm the convictions for counts 1 through 5 and counts 11 and 12.

The majority of the border agents' upheld sentences were the result of their conviction for discharging a weapon in the commission of a crime of violence [18 USC s. 924 text], which carries a minimum sentence of ten years. The court did overturn their convictions for tampering with an official proceeding [18 USC s. 1512 text] because it determined the Border Patrol investigation was not an "official proceeding" within the meaning of the statute. The case was remanded for resentencing. AP has more. The El Paso Times has local coverage.

In a statement [press release] Monday, US Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) [official website] joined US Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) [official website; press release] and Diane Feinstein (D-CA) [official website] in calling on President George W. Bush to pardon Ramos and Compean. There have also been calls for a review of Aldrete-Davila's prosecution by Texas US Attorney Johnny Sutton [official website] after he was arrested [WorldNetDaily report] in 2007 for drug smuggling. Aldrete-Davila had been given immunity to testify against Ramos and Compean during their trial in 2006.