US Attorney Misleads Constituents About Feds Treatment Of Oregon Ranchers

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Rachel Stoltzfoos Staff Reporter
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The Acting-U.S. Attorney for Oregon insists the federal government is not treating Dwight and Steven Hammond as terrorists, although the same attorney’s office used a law explicitly intended to deter terrorists to file an appeal to stiffen their sentences, sending the 73-year-old man and his son back to prison for five years.

Dwight and Steven were convicted in 2012 of committing arson on federal land, a crime for which the sentence is a mandatory minimum of five years in prison as a result of an anti-terrorism law passed in 1996. But the U.S. District Judge regarded a five year sentence as unconstitutionally harsh in the Hammond’s case, and sentenced Dwight to three months in prison and Steven to two years in prison.

They completed both sentences without a fuss, and the government could have considered the case closed once they were completed. But former U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall appealed the sentencing and demanded the Hammonds serve another sentence. (RELATED: Attorney Who Got Ranchers More Jail Time Was Investigated For ‘Erratic Behavior’)

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged the mandatory minimum considered unconstitutional by the district judge is harsh, but ruled it’s not unusual and the courts cannot disregard the required sentence. So the Hammonds were ordered back to prison to serve an additional five years each.

“There’s a clear argument that the government engaged in an overzealous, vindictive prosecution here,” Reason senior editor Jacob Sullum wrote in a piece explaining the absurdity of the re-sentencing. “By no stretch of the imagination were the Hammonds terrorists, yet they were prosecuted under an anti-terrorism statute.” (RELATED: Bundy: US Attorney Threatened Hammonds With ‘Less Desirable’ Prison If They Talked To Me)

The penalty for arson committed on federal land was increased under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 — a law expressly intended to “deter terrorism.” The law explicitly describes the increased penalty for arson as a modification intended “to counter terrorism, leading supporters of the Hammonds to accuse the government of treating them like terrorists.

The re-sentencing led to a backlash strong enough to prompt the attorney who replaced Marshall to issue a statement in December insisting the government does not consider the Hammonds to be terrorists.

“The jury was neither asked if the Hammonds were terrorists, nor were defendants ever charged with or accused of terrorism,” Acting U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Billy J. Williams, said in the statement addressed to his constituents. “Suggesting otherwise is simply flat-out wrong.”

The statement leaves out the fact that an anti-terrorism law is the sole reason the Hammonds have been sentenced to another five years in prison each. The U.S. District Judge originally imposed a lighter sentence on the Hammonds exactly because they were not charged or convicted of terrorism or any crime he viewed as deserving of five years in prison.

A spokeswoman for Williams told The Daily Caller News Foundation the attorney stands by his statement saying the government did not treat or consider the Hammonds as terrorists.

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