Driver who dragged NJ trooper at Taylor Swift concert loses appeal, now actually faces longer sentence

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TRENTON, NJ – A 27-year-old woman who was convicted in 2019 for dragging a New Jersey State Trooper with her SUV at a Taylor Swift concert in 2018 recently lost her appeal to have her conviction and sentence thrown out. 

Furthermore, the appeals court found that her five year sentence for the offense seemed lenient – in fact, too lenient.

Now the woman faces the possibility of a longer sentence than she was originally given back in 2019, as the appellate division of the Superior Court of New Jersey moved her case back to the state for resentencing. 

On July 20th, 2018, 27-year-old Brittany L. Burnett was outside MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford and became irate with New Jersey State Trooper Michael Delgaizo after the trooper had asked her to move her SUV three times.

Burnett was on her cell phone at the time, and apparently didn’t move her SUV, so Trooper Delgaizo informed Burnett that she needed to stay put as the trooper was going to issue a summons for the disregarding of his orders. 

Court records show that “Delgaizo took two or three steps toward his troop vehicle when he heard the defendant’s vehicle shift into drive.”

The trooper smacked the hood of Burnett’s SUV and told her: 

“Stop. Put the car in park. Put the car in park.”

Burnett, however, did not. 

When the trooper tried to reach into Burnett’s SUV and unlock the door, Burnett floored the gas and dragged Trooper Delgaizo onto the Route 120 ramp. 

Court documents say that the trooper was dragged by Burnett’s SUV until he “became dislodged and fell end-over-end multiple times.”

When Burnett was convicted in 2019, she as sentenced to five years in prison for third-degree aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer and second-degree eluding. She was also given a four month sentence on top of that for two counts of resisting arrest.

Burnett had tried to have her conviction and sentence thrown out on appeal when going before the appellate division of the Superior Court of New Jersey. 

The rationale for the attempted appeal was that Burnett’s attorney claimed that she didn’t receive a fair trial because the trooper’s injuries were submitted into evidence, as well as details about Burnett having an expired license in another state. 

Burnett’s attorneys also argued that a defense witness was unfairly reprimanded by the judge in front of the jury.

However, the appeals court wasn’t buying what Burnett’s attorney was selling, and stated that Burnett received a fair trial.

But the appeals court took things a step further, citing that Burnett’s sentence was far too lenient.

The original trial judge in 2019 had reduced Burnett’s sentence because she could face hardships in prison due to her being an “openly gay woman.”

Brittany Burnett - New Jersey Department of Corrections
Brittany Burnett – New Jersey Department of Corrections

Citing state law on reduced sentences for the charges Burnett was convicted of, the appeals court found her conduct during the offense “did not meet the high standard required for a downgrade.”

The appeals court sent the case back to the state court to set a new sentencing date, which now Burnett faces the possibility of having to serve even longer in prison than what she was originally sentenced. 

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In other matters that went up in appeals courts, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review a Salvadoran man’s appeal for humanitarian deportation earlier in June when he claimed he was fleeing violence in his home country. 

Here’s that previous report. 

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NEW ORLEANS, LA – A federal appeals court has reaffirmed that fleeing violence is not a valid claim for asylum in the United States.

Ruling in the case of Hercules v. Garland, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to review a Salvadoran man’s appeal for humanitarian deportation relief on June 9th, finding that immigration judges had rightfully denied his claims after he failed to show he was a member of a persecuted group.

Jose Alberto Hercules, a native and citizen of El Salvador, sought to gain asylum to avoid deportation from the U.S. by claiming he was fleeing violence and would be targeted by gangs if he returned.

He petitioned for review of the Board of Immigration Appeals’ (BIA) dismissing his appeal of an immigration judge’s (IJ) denial of asylum.

He also presented claims in court that he should not be deported because he was fleeing violence in El Salvador and because he was a Salvadoran man.

The lower courts determined that Hercules did not present a legitimate claim for asylum and could be deported.

Hercules had presented claims in court that he should not be deported because he was fleeing violence in El Salvador because he was a Salvadoran man and that he would be targeted by gangs upon return.

The short, unpublished panel opinion identified the three particular reasons the circuit judges said Hercules named at various stages of his removal proceedings before an (IJ) and the BIA. None qualified him for either withholding of removal or protection under the UN Convention Against Torture, according to the panel.

The panel wrote:

“To be eligible for withholding of removal, an applicant must demonstrate a clear probability of persecution upon return on account of a statutorily protected ground, such as his membership in a PSG (particular social group).

“The BIA correctly concluded Hercules’ originally proposed PSG, ‘Salvadoran men who fear violence and delinquency in their home country’, was not a cognizable PSG because it was circularly defined by the feared persecution.”

Last year, the D.C. Circuit Court resurrected part of the “circularity rule,” a policy barring migrants from claiming relief as part of a group defined entirely by the fact that its members faced persecution.

The panel, in that case, relied on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ 2018 opinion in Matter of A-B-, which overturned a previous BIA ruling to tighten requirements for particular social groups.

The Sessions ruling said:

“While I do not decide that violence inflicted by non-governmental actors may never serve as the basis for an asylum or withholding application based on membership in a particular social group, in practice such claims are unlikely to satisfy the statutory grounds for proving group persecution that the government is unable or unwilling to address.”

The ruling essentially means that a person cannot obtain asylum simply because they are a member of a group that has faced violence. Absent a specific, individual case being made for danger to the individual, a person can be deported.

The court also refused to hear arguments that Hercules was a member of a new social group in need of protection, “Salvadorian males,” because he failed to make an argument in support of the group to the immigration judge.

Lastly, the panel denied his claim that he was a member of another group, deported individuals. He tried to claim that deported individuals from the United States would be targeted by gangs and criminals because they would be viewed as having money.

The panel agreed with the IG:

“The [immigration judge] found that, to the extent he alleged such a group, it was not cognizable.”

U.S. Circuit Judges Rhesa Barksdale, James E. Graves Jr., and Andy Oldham sat on the panel for the Fifth Circuit.

Hercules’ attorney, Gino Mario Mesa, did not respond to media requests for comment.

The government was represented by Allison R. Frayer and Christopher C. Buchanan of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Immigration Litigation.

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