A Hempstead man convicted of manslaughter will have a chance at a shorter prison term after a federal judge found last week that a state judge's sentence may have been vindictive.
According to the decision, Nassau County Judge Meryl Berkowitz asked defendant Raul Izaguirre before his murder trial began, "Do you understand that if you are found guilty after this trial you will do 25 years in prison?"
Izaguirre, now 32, opted to reject a plea offer and go to trial anyway. He was acquitted of the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life in prison, but convicted of a lesser charge, manslaughter, which carries a possible prison term of 5 to 25 years, the decision says.
Still, Berkowitz sentenced him to the maximum -- 25 years in prison, the decision says. That was 10 years longer than the 15-year sentence recommended by the prosecutor, according to the decision by U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco.
Bianco found that "there is a reasonable likelihood of actual vindictiveness," by Berkowitz, and ordered that Izaguirre be resentenced by another judge within 90 days. Under the law, a person cannot be punished with a longer sentence for exercising his constitutional right to go to trial.
Bianco rejected Izaguirre's other claims, including that Berkowitz improperly tried to persuade him to plead guilty.
Daniel Bagnuola, a Nassau court spokesman, said Berkowitz acted appropriately.
"The court was clear when it informed the defendant that he could be sentenced to the maximum of 25 years if convicted after trial. The defendant was convicted, and the court sentenced him to 25 years," he said.
John Byrne, a spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, said his office is reviewing Bianco's decision.
Police said Izaguirre fatally stabbed another man, Marvin Valle, 20, also of Hempstead, on June 24, 2003, after a fight in Bar Illusiones in Hempstead.
Kevin Keating, who represented Izaguirre on his appeal, said Berkowitz is "an excellent judge" but in this case, "by predetermining the sentence, especially when he was convicted of a lesser charge, the presumption of vindictiveness had been triggered."