LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge erred in ruling that a Guatemalan citizen’s previous conviction for manslaughter in Nebraska was a crime of violence that should enhance his sentence in an Arkansas case, a federal appeals panel said Monday.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ordered a new sentencing hearing for Reynaldo Roblero-Ramirez, who pleaded guilty in Arkansas to re-entering the country illegally after being deported for an aggravated felony conviction and was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison.
Fayetteville police arrested Roblero-Ramirez on May 25, 2011, after encountering him while responding to a domestic disturbance. Federal immigration officials later determined that he had been deported in 1996, 2000 and 2008.
Immigration officials also learned that Roblero-Ramirez had pleaded guilty in Nebraska in 2006 to manslaughter in the 1995 beating death of Delbert “Skippy” Hansmann of Lexington, Neb.
A U.S. District judge enhanced Roblero-Ramirez’s sentence for re-entering the country illegally, ruling that the Nebraska conviction constituted a previous crime of violence. Roblero-Ramirez objected to the enhancement and later filed an appeal.
In its opinion Monday, a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit said the sentence enhancement was erroneous. Roblero-Ramirez’s Nebraska conviction did not fall under the definition of “crime of violence” as applied to federal sentencing guidelines, the court said.
Manslaughter can be considered a crime of violence under federal law, but the generic definition of “manslaughter” requires intentional or reckless conduct, the 8th Circuit said. The court noted that Nebraska law makes a distinction between “sudden quarrel” manslaughter and “unlawful act” manslaughter, and that Roblero-Ramirez was convicted under the former provision.
Roblero-Ramirez claimed he killed Hansmann in a fight after Hansmann made sexual advances toward him.
Under case law that was in place in Nebraska in 2006, a “sudden quarrel” manslaughter conviction did not require intentional or reckless conduct, the 8th Circuit said. The Nebraska Supreme Court interpreted the law differently in 2011, but that precedent was not in place at the time of Roblero-Ramirez’s 2006 conviction, according to the 8th Circuit.
“Because Roblero-Ramirez’s 2006 Nebraska conviction for manslaughter was not a conviction for a crime of violence within the meaning of the applicable guideline, we reverse and remand for resentencing,” Chief Judge Jay Riley wrote in the opinion.