Lengthy, but deferred, sentence imposed in Nashua man’s third drug sales conviction
NASHUA – Faced with deciding whether to send Wilfredo Cruz, a Nashua man with a criminal record that includes six drug-sales charges and two convictions, back to prison or allow him to continue building upon the progress he’s made in the past year, Judge Charles Temple pondered the best way to interrupt the cycle of crime that kept bringing Cruz back into the legal system.
“What we really attempt to do in sentencing … is structuring a sentence that’s going to stop the cycle of criminal behavior,” Temple said before imposing Cruz’s sentence during Monday’s hearing.
“I have to ask myself, how do I stop this cycle for Mr. Cruz? What do we do to address the root of your criminal behavior?” Temple asked, rhetorically, in an unusual departure from traditional sentencing comments.
Cruz, 44, convicted at trial earlier this year on a felony charge of sale of a controlled drug, grew emotional often during the roughly 30-minute hearing, and choked back tears while trying to apologize to the court in brief comments.
Cruz’s two previous drug-related convictions came in 2013, when he served a prison term of two to four years, and in 2017, when he served one to three years.
Temple, after asking the lawyers on both sides their opinions on the central question: “How do we change (Cruz’s) lifestyle?”, delivered a sentence that keeps Cruz out of prison, but also requires him to stay out of trouble or face the possibility of being returned to prison for five to 10 years.
The sentence varies considerably from the recommendations of both Assistant County Attorney Lisa Drescher, who had asked Temple to impose a two-to-four-year stand-committed sentence, and defense attorney Sarah Amorin, who asked for a term of two to four years, all suspended.
If Cruz violates any terms of his sentencing, Temple warned, “I’m going to have to send you back up there,” referring to State Prison.
The five to 10-year sentence is deferred for one year, and Cruz was also ordered to serve two years of probation, beginning immediately.
He is fined $500, plus costs, and must pay $120 restitution to the Nashua Police Department – money he received for selling drugs to an undercover police agent that led to his arrest.
Cruz, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands, has been doing well in substance use disorder treatment, which included a three-week inpatient program he attended last December, Amorin said.
Noting that most of Cruz’s arrests through the years involve the possession or sale of drugs, Amorin said she had requested that he be screened for possible entry into the court’s Adult Drug Court program.
“But the state refused … so we’ll never know if he needed those high-level services,” Amorin said of Drug Court.
Turning to Drescher, the prosecutor, Temple pointed out that Cruz has both served prison time and undergone treatment. “What’s the alternative?” he asked Drescher.
“The alternative would be a significant, punitive sentence,” Drescher said. “He had the support of the community … he had services. This is a lifestyle that’s been chosen – it’s what he decided to do,” she added.
Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.