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September 1, 2004 - The South Bend Tribune (IN)

Defendant Satisfied With Sentence

Meth Dealer To Serve Less Than Six Years

By Matthew S. Galbraith, Tribune Staff Writer

SOUTH BEND -- Juan Carlos Diaz was all smiles. He turned to the group of people who came to federal court for his sentencing and gave a thumbs up.

He had plenty of reason to smile after his prison sentence for dealing a large quantity of methamphetamine shrank in a series of puzzling reductions from up to nine years to less than six years.

By the end of the hearing Tuesday, the prosecutor was objecting, the judge was saying too bad, and the defense attorney was apologizing for irritating the judge by seeking a recommendation his client also receive drug treatment while in prison.

The confusing scene was a good example of how unpredictable plea agreements and sentencings have become in the era of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Blakely v. Washington case.

In that opinion, the Supreme Court declared that juries, not judges, must decide the factors that can result in longer sentences.

It also has been interpreted in a similar manner by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Diaz, an Elkhart man, pleaded guilty to possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine.

It was one of two counts against him in a grand jury indictment.

But a plea agreement between the defendant and the government set the total quantity of his transactions at 11 pounds.

The amount is an issue of relevant conduct that increases the sentence.

Diaz also received sentence reductions for accepting responsibility and providing assistance to authorities.

At that point, U.S. District Judge Allen Sharp calculated a range of 87 to 108 months. He followed the government's recommendation for the term at the low end: 87 months.

A new calculation lowered the sentence to 70 months. That was done after defense attorney James Stevens pointed out that another government-requested sentence reduction was not reflected in the first range.

Next, Stevens questioned whether the total drug quantity should be factored into the mix in light of the Supreme Court's decision.

Sharp ordered a further reduction over the objection of Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Hays, bringing the sentence to 57 months.

The defendant also will receive credit for time served since July 2003.

Sharp said he was comfortable with the sentence. It covered the defense arguments without clashing with the Supreme Court ruling and 7th Circuit interpretation, he said.

"I don't find it all that distressing or disturbing," the judge added.

Staff writer Matthew S. Galbraith: or (574) 235-6359

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