Thursday, July 23, 2015

No Equitable Vacatur of Supervised Release for Deported 1326 Defendant

Heredia-Holguin was sentenced to one year in prison and a three-year term of supervised release for illegal reentry. He did not object to his sentence or term of supervised release. While Heredia-Holguin’s appeal was pending, he served his one-year prison term and was deported with supervised release. After his deportation, his counsel filed a brief conceding the deportation rendered the appeal moot, and he requested that his remaining term of supervised release be vacated.  
The panel ordered supplemental briefing on three issues: 1) what error had Heredia-Holguin complained of on appeal, 2) whether the appeal had become moot, and 3) if the appeal was moot, “whether the court should vacate the conviction, sentence, or term of supervised release under the doctrine of equitable vacatur.”  
First, Heredia-Holguin emphasized in his supplemental briefing that he was not pursuing the sentencing appeal.  Rather, he “requested only that the panel vacate the remaining term of his supervised release.”
As to mootness, the panel discussed United States v. Lares-Meraz and United States v. Rosenbaum-Alanis, which arrived at opposite conclusions regarding mootness of a sentencing appeal after the defendant is deported. In Lares-Meraz, the “alleged sentencing error,” was not moot “because the defendant remained the subject to a term of supervised release, an element of the overall sentence.” The error, however, was harmless. In Rosenbaum-Alanis, the defendant’s sentencing appeal was moot because the defendant could not reenter the U.S. for resentencing purposes, and no waiver was on record allowing for his absence. The panel perceived inconsistences between Lares-Meraz and Rosenbaum-Alanis but opted not to resolve them.
Assuming Heredia-Holguin’s appeal was moot, the panel denied his request to vacate his supervised release under the doctrine of equitable vacatur. “[V]acatur is in order when mootness occurs through happenstance or unilateral action of the party who prevailed in the lower court.”  Heredia-Holguin’s deportation, however, cannot be attributed to happenstance or the unilateral action of the Government since it was the natural consequence of Heredia-Holguin reentering the United States illegally. Furthermore, the district court “imposed the term of supervised release to deter Heredia-Holguin from illegally returning to the U.S.”  In light of the deterrent effect and his failure to object to the imposition of supervised release before the district court, the panel did not exercise its equitable discretion to vacate Heredia-Holguin’s term of supervised release. 
Since it denied Heredia-Holguin’s request, the panel did not address “the Government’s argument that equitable vacatur is a civil doctrine that is not available in a criminal case as a matter of law.”
Thanks to FPD Intern Adam Pena for this post.

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