Judges reconsider possible sentence for Dominican citizen

A Juneau man’s case goes back to Superior Court after a three-judge panel determined that it would not be manifestly unjust to alter a proposed sentence by just one day to avoid possible deportation proceedings.

Jose Manuel Perez, 37, was convicted of heroin possession, assault, and interfering with a witness. The interference charge stems from Perez being recorded on camera at Lemon Creek Correctional Center beating up the drug buyer who implicated him.

A sentence within the presumptive range of a year to three years for the interference charge would likely mean that Perez would be deported as a citizen of the Dominican Republic. But Perez does not have family or ties there. His wife and mother are here, and he has resided legally in the United States since he was a 10-year old child.

According to a sentencing memorandum issued by Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg, the proposed interference sentence was adjusted to 364 days. That’s one day less than the sentence the federal government considers an aggravated felony that mandates initial deportation procedures.

Testifying for the defense during an earlier hearing, California immigration lawyer Ann Block said the Perez would essentially be unable to apply for a waiver from deportation proceedings with a one-year aggravated felony sentence. Essentially there would be no relief, wrote defense attorney David Seid in pleadings to the court, that Perez would normally be entitled to as a lawful permanent resident.

However, Seid writes that a sentence of a year or more on the drug charge would have no impact on deportation proceedings.

In her filings with the court, Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp wrote that there was no evidence that deportation proceedings would start in Perez’s case and believed that it would not be manifestly unjust or plainly unfair for Perez’s sentence to be in the presumptive range of one- to three-years.

In a hearing similar to one already held in April, a panel of three Superior Court judges — Eric Smith, Anna Moran, and John Sudduck — heard arguments on Wednesday. Kemp argued that it was “setting a stage for potentially avoiding immigration law.”

But the three-judge panel found that Perez would likely be deported and they approved adding a non-statutory mitigator to the sentence. They also found that it would be manifestly unjust to hand down a sentence of a year or more.

Seid said the “court did the right thing.”

In addition to the 364-days, Perez faces a two-year composite sentence to be served concurrently for the drug and assault charge and a 437-days of previously suspended time from a petition to revoke probation.