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D.C. Circuit Orders Accidental Requirement for Sex Offender Registration Deleted from Sentence

In an October 27, 2015 decision, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the deletion of a requirement for sex offender registration a federal judge added to a sentence by accidentally checking the wrong box on a form.

On November 11, 201, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez fired multiple rounds from a high-powered rifle into the White House. He was acting on his belief that President Obama was the anti-Christ and, “as a modern day Jesus Christ,” it was his mission to “take out Obama.” No one was injured. Nonetheless, Ortega-Hernandez was charged with nineteen federal offenses.

As part of a plea bargain deal, Ortega-Hernandez was convicted on two charges and agreed to a terrorism adjustment that significantly raised his offense level under the Sentencing Guidelines and resulted in a range of between 288 and 330 months. He was sentenced to 300 months in prison followed by sixty months of supervised release. Part of the plea bargain included a waiver of appeal for most issues.

In filling out the pre-printed sentencing form, the judge inadvertently checked the box for sex offender. This meant that Ortega-Hernandez would be required to register as a sex offender upon his release from prison. He appealed the registration requirement and alleged the sentence was too long considering his lengthy history of mental illness.

The D.C. Circuit noted that both issues would fall within the waiver. However, since the government not only stated that it would not pursue the waiver on the registration issue and agreed that the requirement to register should be deleted from the sentence, the court agreed to address the issue only.

The court held that the trial judge’s oral pronouncement of sentence did not include registration as a sex offender and it appeared that she had merely checked the wrong box on a pre-printed sentencing, form. Therefore, the case was remanded to the district court for correction of the error on the sentencing form and dismissed with respect to the length-of-sentence issue. See: United States v. Ortega-Hernandez, D.C. Cir., No. 14-3022.

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Related legal case

United States v. Ortega-Hernandez