Supreme Court Rejects Sal Magluta's Petition, 195 Year Sentence Stands

Today, the Supreme Court rejected Sal Magluta's petition for cert to review his 195 year sentence. His crime: non-violent money laundering of $730,000.

As I wrote here the day Sal Magluta was resentenced to 195 years in prison, his original case (along with his then co-defendant Willy Falcon) was the most fascinating one I recall from the 70's-90's years of legal cases involving Miami and "cocaine cowboys." Like many criminal defense attorneys around the country, I followed as many details of the trials and appeals as I could. It had dozens of twists and turns and was the subject of many lectures and discussions at defense lawyer seminars for years afterward.

It wasn't just famous as a drug dealing case.

It was famous for policies rare then but common today -- the government's over-reliance on snitches(largely rejected by the jury) ...for charging defense lawyers with crimes for taking fees they should have known came from illegal activities. I tell some of the story here.

They were first tried together and convicted in 1996, represented by the formidable team of Roy Black of Miami, Marty Weinberg of Boston and Albert Krieger of Miami. It was a huge loss for the Justice Department, which had turned dozens of South Florida drug traffickers and and a bunch of drug lawyers into cooperating witnesses at the trial. The lawyers had been threatened with money laundering charges for taking fees in drug money. Four were prosecuted.

Magluta was acquitted of the most serious charges against him, ordering murders of prospective witnesses. His conviction for bribing a juror in his first trial was later overturned on appeal. Thus, his only convictions were for non-violent money laundering crimes, each of which carry a 20 year sentence. The judge stacked the sentences.

Why? Because of the homicides for which he was acquitted.

Magluta was never convicted of the homicides for which he was sentenced. A jury of his peers found Magluta not guilty of the murders, and guilty only of the nonviolent money-laundering charges -- crimes that carry a maximum sentence of 20 years. The jury's verdict notwithstanding, the judge decided that Magluta was responsible for the homicides and sentenced him accordingly.

... In a watershed 1997 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal judges, in imposing sentence, may ignore jury verdicts of acquittal and determine whether defendants have done wrong. The Herald applauded the punishment, and the new U.S. attorney claimed that such a sentence sends a message about justice. It does indeed: The message is that prosecutors can lose and still win, that a jury no longer stands between an accused American and a life sentence.....

Here's a few articles from 1992 and 1996 on Willy and Sal:

In February 1996, after a four-month trial, Falcon and Magluta were found not guilty of more than a dozen counts of drug smuggling. It was the biggest drug case ever lost by the federal government. When the verdict was read, Falcon and Magluta broke down in tears and had to be held up by their attorneys.

The S.D. of Florida Blog had this to say about his resentencing.

Sal Magluta, still in his 50's, is imprisoned at Supermax in Colorado. With today's rejection of his petition for cert, he will never come out. This is very sad, and very wrong.

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    Jeralyn, do you think anyone cares? (none / 0) (#1)
    by 1980Ford on Mon Apr 27, 2009 at 01:28:05 PM EST
    That's sadder still.

    I care. Lots of citizens care (none / 0) (#3)
    by lilybart on Mon Apr 27, 2009 at 01:56:00 PM EST
    but there are so many Americans who don't care at all about anybody in prison, whether is it wrongful convictions (they were guilty of something just to be arrested) or rape or inadequate medical treatment.



    Many criminal defense lawyers (none / 0) (#4)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Apr 27, 2009 at 03:54:21 PM EST
    read TalkLeft but do not comment here. As I said, this was a huge case many years ago that we followed closely and was widely discussed. They will care, and this post is as much for them as  for the non-lawyers who do comment here.

    Its a death sentence. (none / 0) (#2)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Apr 27, 2009 at 01:53:44 PM EST

    He goes in alive and comes out dead.  Death by confinement.