Steve Lash//July 18, 2017
//July 18, 2017
A federal appeals court Tuesday upheld the 35-year prison term for a convicted Annapolis brothel operator, even though one of the seven charges upon which he was convicted – and carried a five-year sentence – was overturned on appeal.
In its published 3-0 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said prison sentences must be assessed not on a conviction-by-conviction basis but on an aggregate calculation of the crime and the judge’s assessment of the individual.
But the 4th Circuit’s position favoring aggregation over a conviction-by-conviction assessment is not shared by all intermediate federal appeals courts, making the issue ripe for Supreme Court resolution.
Defense attorney Erek L. Barron, who represents German de Jesus Ventura, said his rejected conviction-by-conviction argument is “very strong” but said no decision has been reached regarding whether he and his client will appeal.
“We represent every client zealously,” said Barron, counsel to Whiteford Taylor Preston LLP in Bethesda. “We are always leaning toward defending our clients’ rights in every case. That is always our leaning.”
The 4th Circuit, in affirming the sentence, said a federal judge in Baltimore validly considered Ventura’s violent behavior while in prison in declining to reduce his total penalty despite the overturning of one of his convictions.
“(T)he district court was presented at resentencing with ample evidence that Ventura had been, among other things, involved in physical altercations and made threatening remarks to others while he was in prison,” Judge Robert B. King wrote for the 4th Circuit. “We are also satisfied that all the facts relied on by the court were established by a preponderance of the evidence, and the court was entitled in its discretion to consider them.”
The Annapolis Police Department began investigating Ventura in connection with the slaying of a rival pimp in September 2008. As part of that investigation, the police suspected Ventura was seeking to expand his chain of brothels in Maryland’s capital city to other areas through violence not only against the competition but against his unwilling female “employees,” according to the 4th Circuit’s opinion.
Ventura was arrested in November 2010 at his Capital Heights home.
A U.S. District Court jury in Baltimore convicted Ventura in 2013 on six federal interstate prostitution charges and one count of possessing a gun in furtherance of a violent crime. U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. sentenced him to 35 years in prison before the gun conviction was overturned on appeal.
At Ventura’s resentencing in 2015, Quarles considered Ventura’s threatening of a prison officer among other violent outbursts during his two-year incarceration between sentencing hearings and chose not to reduce the original sentence despite the overturned conviction.
Ventura appealed the unchanged sentence, challenging not only Quarles’ consideration of the prison behavior but also contending that judge did not reduce the prison term out of vindictiveness at having one of the convictions overturned. Ventura, through counsel, contended the sentence must be reduced by five years due to the overturned conviction.
But the 4th Circuit said vindictiveness can be argued only when a prison term has been increased at resentencing.
Ventura’s sentence remained unchanged at 35 years, the 4th Circuit added.
Barron, who is also a Democratic Maryland state delegate from Prince George’s County, said he is representing Ventura under a federal appeals court program that provides counsel for indigent defendants on appeal.
Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory and Judge Barbara Milano Keenan joined King’s opinion in United States of America v. German de Jesus Ventura, No. 15-4808.e