Justices dismiss man’s appeal vs his sentence for killing wife


File photo shows Sylvestre Rogopes Sablan being escorted out after a hearing in connection with the murder of his wife in April 2015. The CNMI Supreme Court has dismissed Sablan’s appeal. (FERDIE DE LA TORRE)

The CNMI Supreme Court dismissed on Monday the appeal of Sylvestre Rogopes Sablan, who was sentenced in 2018 to a 25-year prison term for killing his wife at their home in Oleai.

In granting the CNMI government’s motion to dismiss the appeal, the high court justices said Sablan’s waiver of his right to appeal in his plea bargain was made knowingly and willingly, and that parole and probation fall within its scope.

The justices said Sablan has the burden to prove his claim of miscarriage of justice if his motion to dismiss is to make the hurdle. “Sablan has not met his burden as to any of the claims,” said the high court’s order penned by Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro and concurred by Associate Justices John A. Manglona and Perry B. Inos.

According to court records, Sablan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing his wife, Ana Maria Pialur Limes, who was found dead inside her house in Oleai/San Jose on April 20, 2015. Autopsy showed that she died of a skull fracture due to blunt force trauma. Sablan has been using methamphetamine around the time of the murder.

Under the plea bargain, the parties agreed that Sablan would be sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment, with five years suspended. He also agreed to a sentencing hearing to determine parole eligibility and probation conditions, if any.

The plea bargain in the global plea agreement included a provision that Sablan waived a number of procedural rights, including the right to appeal his sentence and disposition.

In January 2018, Kim-Tenorio sentenced Sablan to 25 years in prison with no possibility of parole. Kim-Tenorio later ruled that after completing the prison term, then-46-year-old Sablan will be placed on 10 years of probation.

Sablan, through assistant public defender Jean Pierre Nogues, appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling on parole and probation. Nogues argued that the waiver should not be enforced, either because the issues on appeal are outside the scope of the waiver, or because enforcing it would constitute a miscarriage of justice. Nogues contended that Kim-Tenorio engaged in mechanical sentencing and failed to properly individualize the sentence. Nogues also argued that the case should be remanded to a different judge for resentencing.

The government, through assistant attorney general J. Robert Glass Jr., moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the waiver in the plea agreement bars the appeal.

In dismissing the appeal, the justices said while Sablan points to some concerning procedural irregularities at the sentencing hearing, they find that these do not rise to the level of a miscarriage of justice and enforce the waiver. The justices said Sablan agreed to the waiver knowingly and voluntarily and this is no barrier to the waiver’s validity.

The justices said under the plain language of the plea agreement, Sablan agreed to the disposition that “the court shall determine the length of time and conditions of probation” and whether he would be “eligible for parole.” The justices found that the parole and probation determinations fall within the scope of the waiver. The justices said Sablan does not make the requisite showing as to any of the claims and thereby fails to demonstrate a miscarriage of justice. The justices found no miscarriage of justice on the ground of mechanical sentencing.

The justices said Sablan got the benefit of the bargain in that the prosecution dropped two additional charges, and the judge did not sentence him to the statutory maximum for the murder charge. The justices said the plea agreement reserved to the judge the right to determine parole and probation conditions, and the grisly facts of the case gave the judge ample reason for its disposition even without the victim impact evidence.

“Enforcing the waiver is therefore appropriate under these circumstances,” the justices said.

On the issue of remand to a different judge for resentencing, the justices said Sablan provides no citation to the record of the sentencing hearing or to other sentencing hearings in which the judge allegedly exhibited bias against defendants in domestic violence cases. “This conclusory allegation of bias does not justify reassignment,” the justices said.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com
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