Sal Magluta was resented yesterday to 195 years in prison. The case was set for resentencing becasue the 11th Circuit had reversed one of his counts of conviction. Magluta had asked for a de novo sentencing hearing, which the judge denied. There were also some late fireworks as Magluta's lawyers filed a motion to recuse the night before sentencing, which was also denied. Here is the Herald article about the sentencing.
This decision will certainly be appealed. It will be interesting to see how the 11th Circuit deals with the Booker issues on appeal where Willie Falcon, Magluta's partner, was sentenced to 20 years as part of a deal and Magluta got 195 years for proceeding to trial. Is this reasonable?
Here is an op-ed that Milton Hirsch and I wrote, which was published in the Herald, after Magluta's first sentencing hearing -- but before the Supreme Court breathed life back into the 6th Amendment in Blakely and Booker:
Miami's last cocaine cowboy rode into the sunset last week. Salvador Magluta, considered one of Miami's most notorious narcotics dealers, was prosecuted in federal court for having witnesses murdered and for laundering millions of dollars in drug proceeds. A federal judge then punished Magluta with a 205-year sentence. Magluta, 48, will live in prison till the day he dies. But Magluta was never convicted of the homicides for which he was sentenced. A jury of his peers found Magluta not guilty of the murders, and guilty only of the nonviolent money-laundering charges -- crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.
The jury's verdict notwithstanding, the judge decided that Magluta was responsible for the homicides and sentenced him accordingly. In a watershed 1997 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal judges, in imposing sentence, may ignore jury verdicts of acquittal and determine whether defendants have done wrong. The Herald applauded the punishment, and the new U.S. attorney claimed that such a sentence sends a message about justice. It does indeed: The message is that prosecutors can lose and still win, that a jury no longer stands between an accused American and a life sentence.
The jury is a special American institution and has been, until recently, the heart and soul of our criminal-justice system. The jury stands between arbitrary rule and the citizenry, and is a shield against overzealous government. Our Founding Fathers recognized that even an independent judiciary was not enough to protect us against abuses of power. They didn't trust judges to mete out justice on questions of guilt or innocence. To determine the answers to these questions, the Founders wanted the commonsense judgment of citizens. Acting upon the court's 1997 ruling, prosecutors and judges have found ways to end-run jury verdicts and the jury system itself. Judges sentence defendants convicted of lesser charges as though they had committed other, more-serious crimes, even in the face of a not-guilty verdict by a jury. Based on inconclusive evidence, or even rejected evidence, a judge is free to send a man to jail for life. Not guilty doesn't mean anything anymore. Conviction is optional. It is the jury verdict that separates America's legal system from that of so many other nations. All countries, even the worst, have laws, judges, lawyers. Most have trials -- or what are called trials -- and many even have juries. But in too many of those countries a verdict is a foregone conclusion: the prosecution having indicted, the jury is simply a rubber stamp. In Magluta's case the jury's verdict was treated as irrelevant, and because it was Magluta no one cared.
As Justice Felix Frankfurter famously warned: ``It is easy to make light of insistence of scrupulous regard for the safeguards of civil liberties when invoked on behalf of the unworthy. It is too easy. History bears testimony that by such disregard are the rights of liberty extinguished, heedlessly at first, then stealthily, and brazenly in the end.''