Friday, June 29, 2007

Ramos, Compean convictions based on federal crime which doesn't exist

Mr. Speaker, as the Members of this House well know, in February 2006, U.S. Border Patrol Agents Ramos and Compean were convicted in a U.S. District Court in Texas for shooting a Mexican drug smuggler. They were sentenced to 11 and 12 years imprisonment, respectively, and today is the 153rd day since the two agents entered Federal prison.

What Members of this House may not know is that 10 years of each of their sentences were based on an indictment and conviction for a Federal crime that does not exist. The Federal crime they were convicted of does not exist.

The law that they were charged with violating has never been enacted by the United States Congress but rather was fashioned by the Office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas, Johnny Sutton.

The law that the agents were charged with, 18 United States Code section 924(c)(1)(a) as enacted by Congress, requires a defendant to be indicted and convicted either of using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to the commission of a crime of violence or possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.

However, neither Mr. Ramos nor Mr. Compean was ever charged with the specific elements of the crime. Instead, Mr. Sutton's office extracted from the United States Criminal Code a sentencing factor, discharging a firearm, and substituted that sentencing factor for the congressionally defined elements of the offense.

In this case, I can imagine how difficult it would be to obtain an indictment and conviction for ``using,'' ``possessing'' or ``carrying'' a firearm when the Border Agents were required to carry firearms as part of their job. That difficulty may well, very well, explain why this United States Attorney's Office unilaterally changed Congress's definition of a crime to a definition that would be easier to prove by the prosecution.

Any change in the elements of a crime amounts to the seizure of legislative authority by a Federal prosecutor. When this encroachment upon the legislative power of Congress was brought to my attention and to the attention of my colleagues, Congressmen Virgil Goode and former Texas State judge, Congressman TED POE, we joined forces with the Gun Owners Foundation, U.S. Border Control, U.S. Border Control Foundation and the Conservative Legal Defense and Education Fund to file a friend of the court brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit Court.

The brief urges reversal of these unjust convictions and 10 year mandatory minimum sentences by spelling out how changes contained in two counts of the indictment against the agents are ``fatally defective'' because they fail to charge an offense as defined by the statute.

Mr. Speaker, many of my colleagues and the American people have been greatly concerned about the denial of due process of law to Agents Ramos and Compean. The American people must be confident that prosecutors will not tailor the law to make it easier to convict in a particular case. Federal prosecutors take an oath to enforce the law, not to make the law.

It is my understanding that the House Judiciary Committee will soon hold hearings to examine the prosecution of this case, and I want to thank Chairman John Conyers for his interest in investigating the injustice committed against these two Border agents.

I encourage the chairman and the committee to take a thorough look into the actions of the Office of U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas and its pattern of aggressively prosecuting law enforcement officers, including Ramos and Compean, former Border Patrol Agent Aleman and Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez. These are legitimate legal questions and concerns about this prosecutor's office, and they need to be answered.

And again, I thank the chairman of the Judiciary Committee for his interest and concern about justice to right an injustice.

June 18, 2007