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Supervised Release Ignorance is Not a Defense

By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that a person doesn’t have to be aware that he’s violating the terms of his supervised release in order to be penalized for violating his supervised release.

In a case involving a man from El Salvador, the New York-based appellate court also clarified that supervised release terms in the U.S. don’t magically disappear when an alien returns to his home country. (Just in case you were considering that argument.)

In 2001, Natividad DeJesus Ramos was sentenced to time served and three years' supervised released for using another person's passport to enter the United States. As a condition of his supervised release, the court ordered as follows:

If removed, the defendant shall not reenter the United States without the written permission of the Attorney General of the United States. Should the defendant be deported, the term of probation/supervised release shall be non-reporting while he is residing outside the United States. If the defendant reenters the United States within the term of probation/supervised release, he is to report to the nearest U.S. Probation Office within 72 hours of his arrival.

Ramos was deported to El Salvador, and reentered the U.S. approximately nine months later, still within the term of his supervised release. Ramos did not report to a probation office as required pursuant to his 2001 sentence. Ramos alleges that, at the time of his illegal reentry, he did not understand that he was on supervised release and was required to report to a probation office, since he thought his sentence terminated upon his removal to El Salvador.

Once probation authorities learned that Ramos was in the U.S. in violation of his probation, they issued a warrant. In 2009, when the warrant was still outstanding, Ramos was detained while assisting the illegal entry of aliens across the border between the United States and Canada.

A federal court sentenced Ramos principally to a term of imprisonment of 51 months pursuant to his conviction for illegally transporting aliens, 51 months for assisting an inadmissible alien in entering the United States, and 24 months for illegally being present in the United States after having previously been removed, all terms of imprisonment to run concurrently. Ramos claimed that the district court erred in adding two points to his criminal history score under Sentencing Guidelines for his commission of an offense while under a criminal justice sentence.

According to Ramos, the court erred because he was unaware he had an unexpired term of supervised release at the time he committed the present offenses.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that a defendant's knowledge that he was subject to a term of supervised release was not required for the district court to impose a sentencing enhancement.

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