(CN) - The sentencing enhancement imposed against an undocumented alien improperly considered his previous deportation after an aggravated felony conviction, the 9th Circuit ruled.
Manuel Guerrero-Jasso first came to the United States from Mexico with his mother when he was 11, but some 15 years later he was found to be unlawfully present in California.
He pleaded guilty to one count of re-entering the country without authorization, which usually carries a two-year maximum penalty.
U.S. District D. Lowell Jensen in San Jose sentenced Guerrero-Jasso to three and half years behind bars, however, based in part on Guerrero-Jasso's 2010 felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance for sale, for which he was deported in 2011.
Guerrero-Jasso argued on appeal that the judge had improperly relied on unadmitted facts to enhance his sentence beyond the statutory maximum. A three-judge appellate panel in San Francisco agreed and vacated the sentence on Tuesday.
"The District Court in this case accepted Guerrero-Jasso's plea without requiring him to admit to the removal date essential to the enhanced sentence," Judge Marsha Berzon wrote for the panel. "As Guerrero-Jasso did not admit to the 2011 removal date, the district court's sentence of more than two years ... did not rest on an admission by the defendant."