Tough Prison Sentencing of Mexican for Illegal U.S. Entries Rejected

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has overturned a lengthy prison sentence for a Mexican with family ties to Orange County but who has been repeatedly arrested for crimes and illegal entry into the country.

Inside the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse in Santa Ana, U.S. District Court Judge James V. Selna had issued a 37-month punishment for Miguel Valle.

But a three-member appellate panel today announced they’d determined that Selna improperly lowered federal prosecutors’ burden of proof to increase the sentencing guideline range from one to seven months all the way to between 37 and 46 months.

The appellate judges ruled the lower sentencing range was proper, a move that likely means Valle, who has already served 20 months in prison, will be released after Selna conducts a new sentencing hearing in accord with their stance. 

Today’s opinion declares that the key issue was whether Valle had been guilty of a severe sentencing enhancement because he’d been “continuously present” in the U.S. from 2004 to 2017, when Santa Ana Police Department officers arrested him and notified federal immigration authorities.

During those 13 years, government officials had no contact with Valle, who’d been deported on two prior occasions following drug-possession convictions.

But prosecutors asserted and Selna, a lifetime appointee of President George W. Bush, accepted the notion that the Mexican needed to prove he’d never returned to his homeland during the period. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office argued that it was merely “logical” that Valle, who has relatives in Mexico, never left—never mind that foreign nationals have historically worked here, returned to their countries for a period of time and then re-entered again without permission for work. 

Ninth Circuit judges Milan D. Smith, Jr., Michelle T. Friedlan and Stanley A. Bastian stated in their 20-page opinion that it was prosecutors’ burden of proof—not Valle’s—to prove continual illegal presence or not.

“The government presented no direct evidence of Valle’s whereabouts for any of the 13 years in question,” the opinion states. “Ultimately, because it was the government’s significant burden to prove that Valle was continuously present and it produced no evidence whatsoever about where he was for over a decade, the district court clearly erred in concluding that the government had sufficiently proven that he remained in the U.S.” 

CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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