Friday, December 27th, 2019

A two-judge majority finds a 17-year sentence “shockingly low”

Mincing no words, Judge Cabranes, writing for a two-judge majority, proclaimed today that a 17-year sentence was so “shockingly low [ ] that, if upheld, [it] would damage the administration of justice in our country.” Judge Hall, however, disagreed, saying that, “I fear the majority would prefer to substitute its sentencing preferences for that of the District Court.” Hall, who dissented in part and concurred in part, did not find the sentence shockingly low, and noted that the district court could give a similar sentence on remand. The decision is available here.

No surprise that these strong judicial reactions come in the context of a terrorism case. In brief: Fareed Mumuni, who was only 21 years old, pleaded guilty to an indictment charging him with, most seriously, conspiring to provide material support to ISIS and attempting to murder a federal agent. After considering numerous aggravating and mitigating factors, including Mr. Mumuni’s youth, his lack of any criminal record, and the fact that no one was hurt, Judge Brodie sentenced him to 17 years of incarceration.

In addition to the generally strong language used, the majority opinion is also notable for two more specific reasons that could come up in future cases. First, is the majority’s complete dismissal of the fact that Mr. Mumuni received no disciplinary infractions in 3 years of presentence detention. The majority wrote that “his compliance with institutional regulations has no bearing on the sentencing factors a district court must consider” as he did what was “plainly required of him – that is, behaving himself in prison.” (At the same time, had he “failed to abide by institutional regulations” that would “suggest a greater need” to protect the public and a reason to enhance his sentence. Left unexplained is why his good behavior wouldn’t suggest a lesser need to protect the public). In response, Judge Hall wrote that the district court used “exactly the type of individualized consideration to which we owe deference” and that the trial judge’s discretion to rely on the fullest information possible about a defendant’s life and characteristics is “essential” to selecting an “appropriate sentence.”

Second, is the majority’s assertion that “terrorism is different from other crimes” and that sentencing at the high end of the guideline range may “plainly be reasonable” even if conduct does not result in any injury. Judge Hall rebuts this too, saying that courts should not weigh mitigating factors differently in terrorism cases. He writes that “criminal cases are sui generis” and that each person has to be treated individually.

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