State appeals court upholds ruling in drug sentencing

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Kevin Murphy
Thursday, June 14, 2012
— A Walworth County judge properly considered a Darien man's involvement with a Mexican drug cartel in sentencing him to 16 years in prison for cocaine trafficking, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The District 4 Court of Appeals rejected Jorge Quinonez's claim that Judge Michael Gibbs used inaccurate information when he sentenced the defendant in two drug cases, revoked his probation and resentenced him in a third case.

Quinonez, 31, was on probation in 2009 for a prior drug conviction when a confidential informant made several drug purchases from Quinonez's father. Prosecutors alleged Jorge Quinonez facilitated the drug buys, according to court documents.

Quinonez pleaded guilty to two counts of cocaine possession and delivery. At his April 2010 sentencing, Gibbs considered as an aggravating factor Quinonez's statements to police that he sold drugs for a Mexican cartel.

Gibbs said that selling drugs contributes to "rampant drug violence in Mexico" that has spilled over into Texas. He said Quinonez was part of "a stream of commerce that results in death and crime," according to the appeals opinion.

"(Y)ou only have to glance at the newspaper or the television in the last month to see the number of people that are getting killed by the Mexican cartels down by the border in these drug wars. And without people like Jorge moving the product and getting the money, nobody'd be killing anybody," Gibbs said, according to documents filed with the court.

Quinonez's appeals attorney, Amelia Bizzaro, said Gibbs' comments denied the defendant his right to due process by sentencing him on the actions of others in Mexico and Texas for crime unrelated to Walworth County.

Events in Mexico and Texas were outside of Quinonez's control and have no bearing on the cases before Gibbs, Bizzaro argued. She contended Quinonez's statements to police were not accurately translated.

She petitioned for her client to have a new sentencing hearing.

The appeals court found Gibbs was free to interpret Quinonez's disputed remarks, which included Quinonez's alleged admission that his Chicago drug supplier was connected to a Mexican cartel and "they would kill him if he acted as a (confidential informant) and did controlled buys," according to the opinion.

"Quinonez did not meet his burden to show that the sentencing court's reference to Mexican drug cartels and related violence was inaccurate based upon this record. The court considered appropriate sentencing factors," the unsigned opinion reads.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Bizzaro said she disagreed with the opinion but

hadn't talked yet with Quinonez about further appealing the case.

"I think the court relied on inaccurate information, and my client is still entitled to re-sentencing," she said.

Last updated: 8:47 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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