Thursday, August 18, 2005

US v. Cirino

No. 03-10711 (8-15-05). What can one make of Puerto Rico. In "West Side Story" the competing views were sung by an unusually musically talented Puerto Rican street gang:

Puerto Rico,
You lovely island . . .
Island of tropical breezes.
Always the pineapples growing,
Always the coffee blossoms blowing . . .

Puerto Rico . . .
You ugly island . . .
Island of tropic diseases.
Always the hurricanes blowing,
Always the population growing . . .
And the money owing,
And the babies crying,
And the bullets flying.
I like the island Manhattan.
Smoke on your pipe and put that in!

I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!
Ev'rything free in America
For a small fee in America!

Well, suppose one of the gang got in trouble in Puerto Rico, could the court use his prior Puerto Rican convictions to enhance his sentence as a career offender? After all, Puerto Rico is not a state, but a Commonwealth. Its status is somewhat different, but is more akin to a foreign or tribal conviction. As for counting the priors for recidivist purposes, the 9th decides "Yes". It held that Puerto Rico is treated as a state in most matters, and that this issue has been raised in other circuits (notably the First, that has appellate jurisdiction). The Puerto Rican constitution provides the protections that the federal constitution gives almost verbatim. Thus, the priors can trigger career offender status. This decision of course has implications for other Commonwealths, and requires an careful examination of both their proffered rights and the rights in practice (the case of Indian courts is instructive in this matter).


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