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How a Native American Man Was Freed From a 60-150 Year Sentence

Efrain Hidalgo thought he would die in custody after being sentenced to 60 to 150 years on drug charges. Now, instead of spending the rest of his days behind bars, Hidalgo is enjoying time with his family in Buffalo, looking forward to living with his mother on the Six Nations of the Grand River reserve in Ontario, Canada, reports USA Today. He credits a 2021 USA TODAY investigation into his plight, and the question of judicial prejudice in sentencing of people of color, with helping him secure his release. Hidalgo was 27 when he was sentenced for his role in a heroin ring that brought drugs from Buffalo to Altoona, Penn, Prosecutors described him as a "kingpin," but Hidalgo, who had no serious criminal history, maintained that his operation was low-level, dealing small bags of heroin at a $15- to $25 markup.

Hidalgo was and sentenced by Norman Callan, a Blair County Common Pleas Court judge. "Whether it's Native American, Hispanic American, African American," Callan said in 2021, raising a discredited theory, "there's a disproportionate number in prison because they do a disproportionate amount of crime." That comment led Hidalgo and his lawyers to file a petition for post-conviction relief in 2022, accusing Callan of racial bias. Two professors at Pennsylvania State University, Jeffrey Ulmer and Holly Nguyen, conducted a data analysis showing not only that Callen's assertion about crimes committed by people of color was wrong, but also that sentencing in Blair County was disproportionately harsh for Black, brown and Native people during the period when Hidalgo was sentenced.


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