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Federal appeals court overturns terrorist sentence

The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] on Monday overturned [opinion, PDF] the 22-year prison sentence for the "Millennium Bomber," Ahmed Rassam [PBS profile], imposed by the lower court after he was convicted by a jury of nine counts of criminal activity by plotting to bomb Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. The decision came after the US Department of Justice [official website] filed an appeal arguing that the sentence was "substantively unreasonable." The court reasoned that the 22-year sentence was too lenient and was based on findings of the lower court that were erroneous. The DOJ argued that, according to federal guidelines, a 65-year sentence would be appropriate based on the severity of the crimes. The appeals court remanded the case to the district court for re-sentencing.

Rassam's sentence was previously vacated and remanded [JURIST report] by the Ninth Circuit in 2010. 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 court also ordered that a different judge be assigned to the case. 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. In December 2008, the US District Court for the Western District of Washington re-issued a sentence [JURIST report] of 22 years in prison. In May 2008, the US Supreme Court 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 punishing the carrying of explosives while committing a felony even if the explosives were not related to the felony offense.

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