United States v. Zuniga, No. 13-1557 (7th Cir. 2014)Annotate this Case
Zuniga was arrested for pointing a gun at his ex-girlfriend outside a bar and was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possessing cocaine. Both the speaker and the person who heard the speaker’s statement that the speaker had seen Zuniga holding the gun testified. Zuniga was convicted and received an enhanced sentence because he had three prior convictions that qualified him as an armed career criminal. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The statement was properly admitted under the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule, but even if it was not, the error would be harmless. Rejecting an argument that the jury was required to find that he had three qualifying felony predicate convictions that made him eligible for an enhanced mandatory minimum sentence, the court stated that prior convictions are sentencing factors that may be determined by a judge. Zuniga did not establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the Illinois Department of Corrections sent him a restoration-of-rights letter, so the court rejected a claim that he should not have been given an enhanced sentence because his civil rights were restored, thereby precluding two of his convictions from being considered predicate offenses.