Judge Doesn’t Buy Vega’s Story; Imposes Prison Term
Prosecutor calls Vega’s claims of not understanding legal system “hogwash”
By Brandi Makuski
Thanks to concurrent sentencing, a convicted heroin dealer will spend a just under five years behind bars.
Judge Robert Shannon imposed a sentence of 56 months in prison and 40 months of extended supervision on 39-year-old Nestor Vega for nine drug-related counts on Friday.
Shannon said he took several mitigating factors into account, including Vega’s childhood and psychological problems for which he was currently receiving Social Security Disability Income.
Shannon also said Vega had improved his life significantly over recent years, and he believed Vega should have a chance to help raise his eight children.
Vega’s sentencing was delayed last month when Vega claimed he didn’t understand the legal process he went through during trial. Defense attorney John Bachman — Vega’s third lawyer in the case — moved to vacate pleas on a single charge of THC possession and two counts of bail-jumping.
At a May 19 hearing on that motion, Vega claimed he was rushed into making the pleas by his former lawyer Stephen Sawyer, and alleged he had no real understanding of the criminal justice process.
“…I don’t have a law degree, so I don’t understand most of what you guys talk about, so…I don’t understand the concept of a whole trial situation,” Vega testified at that hearing. “I never been to trial, or gone to school [to learn] about what a trial is.”
Sawyer testified via telephone on June 2 that he and Vega discussed the options at length during the time he represented Vega, and he was certain Vega understood what was happening.
Bachman argued his client had “limited education” and “some psychological disabilities”, which could explain why his client felt coerced.
“It’s quite probable he didn’t understand fully what was going on, and also felt he had to do this [because] the jury is sitting there, waiting — that’s a lot of pressure in itself,” Bachman said.
Assistant District Attorney David Knaapen said Vega’s ex post facto claims were “nonsense”, and produced documents from five of Vega’s previous criminal cases — all cases in which Vega pleaded to an offense while being represented by a lawyer.
“I don’t think there’s anything about the defendant’s testimony that’s believable based on these records,” Knaapen said. “To all of a sudden come forward in this case and say he didn’t understand those things, that he didn’t know what he was agreeing to — that’s just hogwash.”
Judge Shannon agreed, saying there was “no evidence whatsoever” to support Vega’s claim of coercion, or that he didn’t understand the legal process.
“There’s no evidence that anything other than very appropriate discussion of strategy occurred here between Mr. Sawyer and Mr. Vega,” Shannon added.
Shannon said he felt prison time was appropriate, but due to mitigating circumstances he wasn’t willing to impose the maximum of 12-and-a-half years for each of five heroin distribution charges.
“I understand somewhat about your disabilities, and I don’t think you’ve made the best effort to either educate yourself or stay employed,” Shannon said to Vega. “You’re way better than collecting [disability payments]. At least find out what that world’s like, working regularly, instead of smoke dope and hang around with people who smoke dope.”
Vega was convicted by a jury last October on after selling more than $700 worth of heroin from his Whiting Ave. home during an undercover drug investigation.
During his time in prison, Vega will participate in drug rehabilitation program and cognitive therapy, Shannon added.