ST. PAUL - A Worthington man’s first-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction and sentence have been upheld, the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided Monday.
The appellate court upheld the Nobles County District Court’s conviction of Cesar R. Lopez-Ramos, 21, after a jury found him guilty of a 2016 incident in which he engaged in sexual intercourse with a juvenile under 13 years old. Lopez-Ramos was 19 at the time of the incident.
Fifth Judicial District Judge Gordon Moore’s imposed sentence of 12 years imprisonment - which Lopez-Ramos also appealed - was also upheld, the appellate court decided. He was sentenced to 144 months imprisonment with a Minnesota Correctional Facility with the ability to be eligible for conditional release after 10 years confinement.
The underlying facts of the case presented in Monday’s 24-page opinion detail that Lopez-Ramos emigrated to the United States in 2016 from Guatemala. His first language is Mam and second is Spanish, and he does not fluently speak English.
In April 2016, Nobles County child protection received a concerned report involving a 12-year-old child due to hickeys on her neck. The report prompted an investigation.
Lopez-Ramos, a then-suspect in the investigation, agreed to give a statement in May 2016 to law enforcement. Using a foreign-language interpretation service, Lopez-Ramos admitted to law enforcement that he had unprotected sex with the girl one time. He asserted that it was something she wanted and began jokingly in nature. His admission to a Worthington police officer was video recorded and presented as evidence in his December 2016 jury trial.
The basis of Lopez-Ramos’ appeal, filed in April 2017, was twofold.
Lopez-Ramos asserted that during the Nobles County District Court proceeding, his Sixth Amendment Right - the right to call or be confronted with witnesses against oneself - was violated. The interpreter of Lopez-Ramos’ admissive statements during the video-recorded interview was not present at the jury trial for cross-examination. Therefore, Lopez-Ramos argued, the interview should not have been permissible evidence at the jury trial.
Lopez-Ramos also challenged that - prior to his conviction by jury trial - the district court wrongfully denied his objection to permitting the interview as evidence, on the basis of what he argued the interpreter’s statements to be inadmissible hearsay.
The appellate court found that the district court correctly attributed the interpreter as a “language conduit” and acted as an agent for Lopez-Ramos. Therefore, no Confrontation Clause or hearsay issues existed, the opinion continued.
The three appellate judges’ that considered the case cited numerous state statutes and previous court cases and the precedents those set to help base the court’s decision.
Incarcerated since Jan. 17, 2017, Lopez-Ramos’ anticipated release date is May 9, 2024. He is currently at the Minnesota Corrections Facility at Faribault.