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In SDNY Cuban Religion Said To Excuse Gun Possession But Judge Hellerstein Rejects It

By Matthew Russell Lee, Patreon
BBC - Guardian UK - Honduras - The Source

SDNY COURTHOUSE, May 18 – Eric Cruz was up for sentencing on gun charges on May 18 and in his defense submission was this: "Mr. Cruz' possession of the firearm at issue was solely for use in the ceremonial practice of his religion, Palo Mayombe. Firearms hold only symbolic meaning in the ritual practice of the religion and involve no violence or threat of violence." 

 U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein weighed this claim against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and found it wanting. Inner City Press covered the proceeding. 

 Inner City Press called in to report on the telephonic sentencing, on Judge Hellerstein's usual line, and when asked, "Speak your name," said "Inner City Press," as done each time before.   

Assistant US Attorney Kedar S. Bhatia said under the CARES Act, must find video conference not available, and it is not, at the Westchester County Jail. 

    Judge Hellerstein said, Correct. Thank you. And there is no likelihood things will be better in 60 days. Mr. Cruz has seen me before, he knows me. 

  Judge Hellerstein said, He is citing a Cuban religion as a basis for having a gun. But a loaded gun? He cites the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 - government must show a compelling interest. But that does not require the US to do handstands... I find that there is not a burden on this religion, and that even if there were it would be acceptable to control guns. I wanted to make this on the record, that I considered this and denied it.

    Cruz' Federal Defender said, There are family members who have dialed in.  

 Judge Hellerstein muses, Mr. Cruz has had no bad incidents in jail. He is a trustee of the library in the jail, a position that has a certain degree of respect to it. He's learned acupuncture, and there's a market for that. He has potential. But what about respect for law?  

  Cruz spoke for himself, saying, I began to change when I studied Eastern Medicine. I have a 3.9 grade point average. I have studied massage therapy. With this conviction, it is more difficult. On April 13 I tested positive for COVID-19. I lost my sense of smell. I was kept in cell for 23 and a half hours a day for 14 days. I still suffer dizziness, which has been confirmed as post-COVID symptoms. 

 Cruz added, Throwing the gun out the window was selfish, I agree. I want to thank my Federal Defender. She called my fiancee and kept her updated. 

    Judge Hellerstein ultimately imposed a sentence of 21 months in custody, to be followed by three years of supervised release. The case is US v. Cruz, 19-cr-775 (Hellerstein). 


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