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Home Featured A ‘dangerous felon’ who was never convicted of a violent crime

A ‘dangerous felon’ who was never convicted of a violent crime

The 'seven felony convictions' of Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez are all minor -- but that's not what you read in the news media

Jose Ines Garcia Zarate

Two years ago, Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez was arrested for the death of Kate Steinle on San Francisco’s popular waterfront. The case gained national attention as then-candidate Donald Trump exploited Lopez Sanchez’s immigration status to propose sweeping immigration reforms.

Although the shooting appeared to be an accident — the fatal bullet ricocheted off the ground — conservative commentators repeatedly used Lopez Sanchez’s seven prior felony convictions to argue he was a serious criminal.

Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez spent 18 years in federal prison — but never for a crime of violence

But a review of Lopez Sanchez’s criminal record shows his convictions are for relatively minor offenses, none of which involve a crime of violence, weapons offense, or even theft charge.

First, all of Lopez Sanchez’s narcotics convictions are more than 20 years old. They occurred in Washington State: three “possession” and one “possession with the intent to sell” offenses.

The most serious of these, the 1993 possession for sale offense, was a weak case. Police allegedly observed Lopez Sanchez in a transaction, but when was arrested, he had no money in his possession. Police discovered a piece of plastic in his jacket containing material that later field-tested positive for cocaine. Lopez Sanchez pled guilty to a probationary sentence — not knowing the conviction would ultimately cause him to spend 18 years in federal prison.

The conviction had magnified consequences, since federal immigration laws categorize any drug sale (or possession for sale) as an aggravated felony making any illegal reentry to the U.S., much more serious. He was now labelled a “drug trafficker” under the law, even though the case was minor, thus equating him with those who’ve been deported after serving sentences for murder, rape, and kidnapping. (8 U.S. Code §1326).

As a result, whenever he entered the U.S., Lopez Sanchez faced 20 years in prison just for crossing the border. Not surprisingly, each time he appeared in court, he plea-bargained his cases, for five, six, then seven years when given the chance. Yet, none of these illegal reentry sentences would have been imposed if he didn’t have the “drug trafficking” conviction 25 years ago; otherwise he would have been facing one or two years in jail each time he entered the country.

Similarly, whatever you may think of drug offenses, Lopez Sanchez’s aren’t serious. States like California and Oregon are decriminalizing drug possession, making many of these offenses misdemeanors. Minor sales cases don’t disqualify you for drug treatment either. But in the early 90s, the drug war was in full swing. Lopez Sanchez is one of its casualties.

A research team at Syracuse University found that immigration prosecutions like Lopez Sanchez’s make up more than half of all criminal cases brought by the federal government. The cases are the “low-hanging fruit” of the federal judicial system since the accused rarely contest them – they usually take two court appearances to resolve. By comparison, prosecutors refuse to prosecute nearly half of the white-collar cases referred to them, while they charge 97% of the immigration cases.

As it stands, immigrants comprise the largest growing percentage of inmates in our federal prisons. A recent U.S. Government Accountability Office report found that “almost seven in every 10 foreign prisoners in U.S. jails are Mexicans” and that “[m]ost of the prisoners were convicted for immigration offenses (65%).” Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics (Aug 2015) show that nearly 16% of all federal prisoners are Mexican nationals with the number rising to more than 20% when Central and South Americans are included. In total, foreigners make up more than 25% of the U.S. prison population.

Taken together, Lopez Sanchez has spent 18 years in federal prison, plus a year in jail for the convictions from the early 90s. This exceeds the time he ever lived in Mexico as an adult. That’s two decades of imprisonment for non-violent offenses.

Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez is being portrayed on the national stage as a dangerous felon without ever having been convicted of violence.

Matt Gonzalez, chief trial lawyer for the Public Defender’s Office, is representing Juan Francisco Lopez Sanchez.


  1. Who? Sanchez? Hardly. He was used by Trump, Lee, and some others. Trump used him to stir up hatred, and Lee was determined to get rid of Mirkarimi. I believe that he said things during an interview while he was under the influence of some sleeping pills. It is not valid evidence, and I notice that those who want to railroad him only accept the things he said that fit their chosen narrative.

    I believe in justice. I believe in the right to a fair trial, and a proper defense. I don’t believe in mob justice, and I don’t believe in convicting someone just because it suits one’s political ambitions. Anyone accused of a crime deserves that their rights be preserved. Shoot, I would do the same for you.

  2. So, why bother with a trial? Apparently we should just let you decide? Why bother having a jury?

  3. That those on the right wing want him convicted so they can push their agenda regarding immigration. He did not deliberately kill Steinle, but that is an inconvenience for those pushing the idea that undocumented aliens are looking to kill people at every chance. They cannot tolerate that this was a very tragic, and quite bizarre accident. As to a plea bargain, that is fine if he actually committed a crime, but plea bargains should not be used to coerce innocent people into confessing to crimes they did not commit.

    I mean, you do oppose convicting innocent people, don’t you?

  4. So, he’s a shill for Donald Trump, Ed Lee and other politicans?

    And you haven’t seen anything that confirms his shooting three shots – other than his own statement? So you don’t believe even him?

    Is he a relative of yours? Why is he so near and dear to your heart? There are plenty of actual innocents in jails, why does he deserve such compassion from you?

  5. What exactly is the abuse? The fact he’s charged, or the fact he’s been charged with murder? It’s often done, to secure a plea agreement to a lesser charge.

  6. I show this to all my normal friends to explain to them the progressive mindset. It’s very effective.

  7. Yes, but I’d put my money that it wasn’t cocked, unless Sanchez Lopez cocked it. I haven’t heard what Gonzalez has expressed on behalf of his client regarding this matter, and I’m not sure which story you refer. I think it should be a manslaughter charge regardless of if he cocked the gun and fired it three times. He had no intended malice towards Steinle, or anyone else.

  8. Yes, and if a round is chambered, and the gun is cocked it is equally sensitive. That is the thing. His story is plausible.

  9. Right, it’s a huge difference between first and second trigger pulls. If you watch the first 10 seconds of the video I posted yesterday you can discern a little pause after the first shot, but after that you can’t even really tell how many shots are fired. The gun guy in the video speaks to how sensitive it is after the 8lbs of force needed for the first pull.

  10. San Francisco chooses to pose as sanctuary city where those seeking aid can find refuge. Yet San Francisco, where average cost of a 4-bedroom, 2-bathroom house is $1,672,100 and median household income is $78,378 offers zero probability of realizing the American Dream for the median family and far less than zero for uneducated non-English speaking illegal immigrants who only serve to expand the voter base of politicians who otherwise would be searching for work.

  11. Which is an abuse of the system. Some NEED him to be convicted of as serious a charge as can be mustered. Justice be damned. That is just wrong, and should be exposed.

  12. So, share you views with us. You seem to be part of the mob calling for his conviction based on shoddy evidence. Families are allowed to voice opinions after the trial. They are not allowed to attempt to sway voters with emotion. As has been pointed out, if the victim had not been an attractive, young, white, well-to-do female, this would barely be news.

  13. He deserves the truth be told. He was made a cause by Donald Trump, as well as Ed Lee and some other politicians. It was quite amusing watching Lee try to smear Mirkarimi, while trying not to upset both Chinese and Mexican immigrants by trashing the Sanctuary laws. Mirkarimi followed the local laws. No one could have remotely predicted what would happen, as it is a bizarre accident. I love how everyone focuses in on the sea lion remark, but ignores that he found the gun, and that it went off by accident. And I have seen nothing that confirms that he fired three shots, other than his statement. He clearly had no intent or motive. It was an accident.

  14. Prior to Hart-Celler, anyone who lived in the Western Hemisphere could immigrate to the United States. There were no quotas, and no caps. Also, there was a program that freely allowed migrant workers to cross the border to work. This was eliminated by Senators like Jesse Helm and Strom Thurmond. Now, there are strict limits on how many can come permanently from Mexico each year.

  15. they’re using the case for political purposes – which is pretty standard for politicians across the spectrum. duh.

  16. you don’t know my politics – narrow or otherwise. Once charges are filed, the family of course – as they should – be allowed to voice their opinion, make victim impact statements etc., but at the end of the day, the criminal justice system handles trials, convictions and punishments. Talk about narrow views, sheesh.

  17. I’m not ‘bending over backwards’ to smear this guy – he’s done that all on his own. No one said he was a major drug lord or anything close to it. Nor is he a criminal mastermind. He’s a repeat convicted felon, deported 5 times who shot and killed a woman. Why all the incessant sympathy and coddling of him? Why does he deserve more chances, or rate as such a cause?

  18. What “tight limitations” were those? The Hart-Celler act of 1965 actually abolished all racial limits on immigration and emphasized family reunification and skilled migration as prerequisites for immigration to the US instead. So please do illuminate everyone on these “tight restrictions” designed to “protect the culture” that were imposed from “racist senators from the South.” What was the name of the act? Who were the senators? What limits, specifically, were imposed on Mexicans?

  19. He made the remark about sea lions in a very incoherent interview. You are taking that and running with it, while completely dismissing other things from the same interview. Seems like you are the one twisting facts.

  20. He said the gun went off three times. I have seen no evidence that he actually fired three times. This particular gun is known to have a hair trigger under certain circumstances. If the gun was cocked and a bullet was in the chamber, it would have gone off very easily. Also, the gun may have been modified to fire even easier. This is not uncommon among law enforcement. It allows them to get off more shots quickly.

  21. There is NO evidence that he stole the gun, and he is not charged with that. There IS STRONG EVIDENCE that the gun could have gone off accidentally. And other than a statement in an interview, where he was largely confused, and recovering from having taken some sleeping pills. there is NO EVIDENCE that he fired three times.

  22. Prior to the laws pushed through by racist senators from the South in the mid-Sixties, he would have been able to come with limitations. They got tight restrictions on immigration from Mexico to protect the culture. The idea that anything he did “led” to her death is an absurd stretch. It was a bizarre accident that NO ONE could have predicted.

  23. You are the one bending over backwards. Seriously, “and includes any packaging or repackaging of the substance or labeling or relabeling of its container,” does not equate to manufacturing drugs. And irregardless he got a light sentence. So, it is obvious that he was not a major drug lord or something.

  24. Where do you get that he was convicted of narcotics manufacturing? He PLEAD GUILTY to a trumped up drug sales charge, even though he had no money on him when arrested. He took a bad plea deal, probably because he had a lazy public defender.

  25. Right…. You don’t care about things like the truth, or justice. Just your narrow little politics.

  26. You mean like the Chronicle, and SFGate, which has also published similar articles. You are terrified of one thing. That Sanchez WILL get a fair trial.

  27. He gave a bizarre and contradictory interview to a reporter, who was pretty much leading him on. You want to focus on one statement, and dismiss others. He also said the gun went off accidentally. He did not deliberately fire it, and he was not remotely aiming at anyone, or anything.

  28. Murder involves intent. As in, someone says, I will kill this person, and aims a gun at them. In this case, there is considerable evidence that the gun went off accidentally, was not aimed at ANYONE, and there is absolutely no basis to suggest that he deliberately killed anyone.

  29. You do realize that the stuff about sea lions is based on a rather bizarre interviews, and not sworn testimony. Things would be no different if he were born here, except that the right wing-nuts would not be as interested.

  30. do you just not care? why is this guy so deserving of empathy, hand-wringing and mental contortions to downplay his history? He deserves a fair trial, but he’s no cause célèbre, why are you trying so hard to make him one?

  31. be that as it may, it really isn’t up to them; just as there are victim’s families opposed to capital punishment, and the convict in said case is subject to it.

  32. 90 People? BLM’s Chicago page is only seeking justice for 8 that they’ve listed so far.

  33. Why doesn’t anyone care about the sea lions? There are 7.4 billion people on the planet we are not the endangered species here

  34. I don’t know what he thought. We have an epidemic of gun violence in our society and people get shot every day. 90 people were shot in Chicago on the Fourth of July weekend. Gun violence is the leading cause of death of young black and Latino men.

  35. I can’t help but wonder if there would have been such outrage if the decedent would have been a homeless black woman. Beautiful victims such as Lacy Peterson draw eyes to media. Of course it is heart breaking for the family and friends but I doubt there is any evidence that he desired to shoot her.

  36. ” he didn’t mean to kill anyone”

    @MKR – you can say that. But he was sitting? there taking shots are sea lions. Does that mean that when he actually hit something (or some one?!), that he “didn’t mean to do it”?!!

    Come on! If you, a presumed middle class woman, were doing that, people would be pretty shocked and disapproving. But I’m not sure your race/class/gender would isolate you from a Murder-2 charge. I don’t think many wold be looking for excuses for you.

    But I could be wrong. Oh, and if you had a rap-sheet as well. Face it- this guys’ “rodeo” is the slammer; why keep him from it?

  37. it sounds like involuntary manslaughter not murder he didn’t mean to kill anyone. All 48 hills is doing is telling the story from a different perspective. Of course its easy for me to say, as a white woman if I did something like that I wouldn’t be as vilified in the press. My lawyers could say I had to have a gun to defend myself against illegal immigrants.

    One of the reasons prosecutors go after illegal immigrants is that its easy to prove and its a notch on their belt to make them feel like they are really accomplishing something. White collar crime is rampant, and many of even the top prosecutors don’t have the trial skills to bring down the likes of Stevie Cohen or Lloyd Blankfein for fraud or insider trading. So they go after people in the country illegally the vast majority of whom are doing little harm and some who may be escaping persecution or oppression.

  38. 48 Hills should have put that disclosure at the top of the article so that people were aware of it while reading. Not everyone makes it to the bottom of these articles.

    It’s not like the article was provided by a generic immigration advocate. It was provided by someone who has a direct quasi-financial professional interest in this case. If Lopez Sanchez gets off easy it would have direct benefits for Matt Gonzalez.

  39. Shooting at sea lions which results in killing a young woman? Whats the difference in jail-time btw 2nd Murder and Manslaughter? This guy needs to go away for a long time.

    How do we as a society protect ourselves from a guy like this?

  40. Matt Gonzalez’s job is to defend his client and portray him in the best light, which he is trying his best to do. But why is Matt Gonzalez assigned to this case, it does not warrant the city’s chief attorney in the Public Defender’s Office, there is better use of his expensive time, a more junior lawyer should be assigned, freeing up Gonzalez to server the city/ Currently he is wasting time & money dealing with this.

  41. He shouldn’t be used as a political test case, but he definitely committed 2nd degree murder. Ignorance of firearm safety is not a defense for what happened.

  42. You missed the point—it ricocheted off your brain and miraculously had no effect on your thinking.

  43. We’re sentencing people to decades in prison for positive field tests, which are notoriously inaccurate.

    Compounding the absurdity is that the gun was one that the DEA ‘lost.’

  44. You’re right, I shouldn’t have speculated on the cause of the charge.

    What I did was I googled the legislative definition for “manufacturing” narcotics in the state of Washington. Here it is:

    (u) “Manufacture” means the production, preparation, propagation, compounding, conversion, or processing of a controlled substance, either directly or indirectly or by extraction from substances of natural origin, or independently by means of chemical synthesis, or by a combination of extraction and chemical synthesis, and includes any packaging or repackaging of the substance or labeling or relabeling of its container.

  45. But the charge likely stems from cooking heroin, or repackaging drugs. He’s a small time junky and inebriate.

    Oh, OK. I wasn’t aware that you had first hand knowledge of the drug manufacturing. I was just going on what was reported by several reliable sources.

    Oh…wait…do you really have first hand knowledge or are you just, you know, making up whatever it is that you want to believe???? Without any basis whatsoever???

    Must be cool to be able to make up whatever “facts” you need and be able to believe them.

    And you’re right…there is no record of violence until he killed the woman right in front of her parents.

  46. I’m convinced he received this charge. Thanks.

    But the charge likely stems from cooking heroin, or repackaging drugs. He’s a small time junky and inebriate. He’s never been convicted of any violence. You are trumping up petty charges.

  47. He is not an “immigrant.” Using that term for him devalues everyone who immigrates to this country through legal channels. He is a criminal, deported again and again, who viewed the US as a means to an end – getting high and selling drugs – and whose actions, (regardless of his intent) led to the death of an innocent woman, an American citizen.

  48. Lopez Sanchez couldn’t get together two socks that matched, much less manufacture narcotics.

    Here ya go —

    Among his criminal convictions — the most recent in 1997 — are at least four felonies for possessing heroin and manufacturing narcotics and a misdemeanor conviction for inhaling toxic vapors, federal records show. He has also been charged numerous times with felonies for illegally entering the U.S. after being removed.


  49. Gonzalez writes:

    States like California and Oregon are decriminalizing drug possession, making many of these offenses misdemeanors.

    Not these offenses.

    Lopez Sanchez didn’t get caught with an ounce of marijuana. He was convicted of felony heroin possession and felony narcotics manufacturing.

    Gonzalez writes this article describing Lopez Sanchez’s transgressions as minor and for some reason Gonzalez never even uses the word ‘heroin’ .


  50. I’m lucky? That’s funny. I have no idea what the progressive cause is, I just call ’em like I see ’em.

    I would imagine her family is devastated and finds no solace in any of the details. I don’t judge Ms. Steinle’s parents in any way, shape, or form. Their path to healing is their path. If they ever happen to read this I would like them to know I send my sincerest condolences.

  51. I think the point is that Trump and other anti-immigrant right-wingers hold up Lopez Sanchez as someone who was violent before this incident and should have been deported. That is simply not true. Clearly this is a tragedy, but should not be used as an excuse to deport every undocumented drug offender in the country.

  52. It doesn’t help the Progressive cause for the general population to read something like this. You’re lucky that it is only 48 Hills and not a more widely read source.

    Do you think that the woman’s family takes solace in the fact that it was just a ricochet from someone who only wanted to kill a marine mammal?

  53. Personally I believe this should be a manslaughter charge, but I agree that Mr. Gonzalez left himself open with his wording.

    Pistols are extremely uncommon among common people south of the border. I would wager Lopez Sanchez has very little firearm knowledge. We don’t know if he is the one who stole the gun, or chambered the first round. We do know he fired the three rounds, but that is three quick squeezes without a re-chamber needed.

    Thanks for your agreement about the negligence regarding storage. We’ve seen this in town more than a couple times. It’s just not right.

  54. Yes, he killed her. May she rest in peace.

    Trump has repeatedly held her up as a cause celebre in his quest to vastly increase deportations. It’s hysteria, which is blatantly obvious by you and other’s comments.

  55. The fact that he shot 3 rounds does not imply accidental discharge. Chambering a firearm and pulling the trigger is a pretty deliberate act. Most modern guns do not fire even if dropped.

    I think recklessness is easy to demonstrate here, and recklessness can fulfill the requirement for malice.

    In regards to the firearm that was stolen. No question there, that was a pretty negligent way of storing a firearm.

  56. Hey, he offered an explanation at the time of the shooting. He was just trying to kill a sea lion.

    Seriously, it is astounding that someone could attempt to trivialize the fatal shooting of a young woman who was just showing her family around town. Because the shot fired was a ricochet.

    Could Matt Gonzalez be any more out of touch with reality? Does he expect to be taken seriously after writing something like that?

  57. The shooting may or may not have been an accident. It’s hard to know. The murder likely was an accident.

    It’s Mr. Gonzalez’ job to listen to and represent his client. At this time Lopez Sanchez is charged with second degree murder. Was there intentional malice on the part of Lopez Sanchez? If not he should be tried for manslaughter. It would be unethical for Gonzalez not to do everything within his power to try and reduce this charge to manslaughter.

    The real clown in this incident is the BLM officer who left only a 2’x2′ piece of tempered glass to secure his loaded .40 caliber weapon.

  58. “Although the shooting appeared to be an accident — the fatal bullet ricocheted off the ground”
    There’s your mistake there, what happened was not an accident. Did he intentionally steal a firearm? Yes. Did he discharge said firearm in a negligent manner, not once but thrice, in a populated area? Yes.

    If someone put on a blindfold at Union Square and started swinging a bat around, if they hit somebody, is that an accident? No, the consequences of doing so are not unexpected at all.

    This City did well to not elect this clown as mayor.

  59. Although the shooting appeared to be an accident — the fatal bullet ricocheted off the ground — conservative commentators repeatedly used Lopez Sanchez’s seven prior felony convictions to argue he was a serious criminal.


    He murdered a person, that isn’t in question. Just because the guy is a bad aim doesn’t mean he isn’t a criminal.

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