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Federal appeals court rules 'millennium bomber' 22-year sentence too lenient

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Tuesday vacated and remanded [opinion, PDF] the 22-year prison sentence for so-called "millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam [PBS profile], finding that the district court's failure to follow proper sentencing guidelines resulted in an inappropriately lenient sentence. Ressam, an al Qaeda-trained terrorist, was originally sentenced [JURIST report] in 2005 after being convicted of plotting to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999 [CBC timeline]. The court found that the district court failed to properly consider the sentencing guidelines, which would have required a minimum prison sentence of 65 years. The prosecution offered Ressam a reduced sentence in exchange for his cooperation against other terrorist suspects, but, over time, Ressam failed to properly cooperate with US government officials. The court found:

The procedural errors identified in the district court's decision rendered the sentence imposed on Ressam both procedurally and substantively unreasonable. Because the sentence is procedurally flawed, meaningful appellate review is foreclosed. Based upon our review of the record before us, however, it appears that the district court abused its discretion in weighing the relevant factors by giving too much weight to Ressam's cooperation and not enough weight to the other relevant § 3553(a) factors, including the need to protect the public.

The court ordered that on remand, the case will be transferred [LAT report] to a different district judge for sentencing.

In December 2008, the US District Court for the Western District of Washington [official website] re-issued a sentence [JURIST report] of 22 years in prison. In May 2008, the US Supreme Court [official website] voted 8-1 to uphold [JURIST report] Ressam's conviction. The Court reversed the judgment [JURIST report] of the Ninth Circuit and ruled that Ressam could be convicted and sentenced under a law [18 USC § 844 text] punishing the carrying of explosives while committing a felony even if the explosives were not related to the felony offense.

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