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Court rejects shortened sentence

Bellon, convicted of drug crimes, sought hearing to discuss reduction

A former Altoona man sentenced to a minimum prison term of 31 years for drug-related crimes has for the moment lost his bid to have his sentence reduced, according to an opinion issued late last week by a panel of judges from the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

Charles Bellon, who is incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution in Benner Township, Centre County, petitioned the federal appeals court to order U.S. Magistrate Keith A. Pesto and U.S. District Judge Kim R. Gibson, presiding in the U.S. District Court in Johnstown, to decide whether he is entitled to a new sentencing hearing.

Pesto last year ordered Blair County Judge Hiram A. Carpenter to re-sentence Bellon on several drug charges because the maximum sentences he imposed in 2006 for those charges exceeded state-mandated limits.

Carpenter complied with the federal order by reducing Bellon’s maximum sentence from 31 to 62 years to 31 to 46 years.

The Blair County judge corrected the sentence without holding a new sentencing hearing.

Bellon objected because he maintains he is legally entitled to a new hearing, one in which he could argue for a lesser minimum sentence as well.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court however upheld Carpenter’s sentence that altered only the maximums on 10 charges of possession with intent to deliver cocaine.

Bellon then took his argument back to the U.S. District Court in Johnstown, challenging Judge Carpenter’s corrected sentence.

He also filed a civil rights lawsuit contending his right to due process was being delayed because the U.S. District Court has not acted on his pending complaints.

According to Bellon, he has been waiting for decisions on those cases since May.

He asked the 3rd Circuit to intervene, pointing out “delay in ruling on a pending matter is tantamount to failure to exercise jurisdiction.”

A three-judge appeals court panel that included Kent A. Jordan, L. Felipe Restrepo and Anthony Cririca last Friday ruled that while delays in deciding cases can cause concerns, delay in Bellon’s case “does not yet rise to the level of a denial of due process.”

Magistrate Judge Pesto, who issued the original resentencing order, indicated he would be required to write a report and recommendation concerning Bellon’s most recent petitions.

The 3rd Circuit panel concluded that this showed the magistrate judge was aware of the case and “intends to address it in due course.”

When the district court decides Bellon’s request for a new sentencing hearing, the inmate will then have the opportunity to respond to the ruling, and, if it is adverse, he will be able to bring the issues before the 3rd Circuit on appeal.

“Bellon has not raised anything warranting our intervention on this process at this time,” according to the 3rd Circuit panel.

The panel made it clear that its rejection of Bellon’s mandamus petition (to compel a lower court to act) was not a rejection of the issues he was raising.

Bellon, now 42, was charged with being the leader of a cocaine ring operating in Blair County.

He has repeatedly challenged his lengthy sentence, arguing he was not the leader of the organization.

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