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March 27, 2012

Amusing(?) dissent from Ninth Circuit panel's affirmance of federal sentences of over 700 years

Ninth Circuit Judge John Noonan via a short dissenting opinion today in US v. Major, No. 10-10478 (9th Cir. March 27, 2012)(available here), provides an amusing postscript to a lengthy opinion that, inter alia, rejects a constitutional challenge to a pair of extremely long federal sentences. First, via the majority opinion, here is the factual set-up (with my emphasis added):

Between December 24, 2005, and July 24, 2006, retail establishments in Fresno and Madera, California, were plagued by a string of armed robberies.  Major and Huff were arrested on July 24, 2006, while attempting to flee from the scene of the robbery of Bulldog Liquor....

Major and Huff were tried together with other codefendants, and on December 22, 2009, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts against both Major and Huff. The district court sentenced them on March 25, 2010. Huff’s sentence included prison terms of: 121 months for each of the conspiracy and robbery counts (Counts 1, 2, and 33 through 62), to be served concurrently; 120 months for the first count of discharging a firearm (Count 3), to be served consecutive to the conspiracy and robbery sentences; and 300 months for each of the remaining 29 discharging and brandishing offenses (Counts 4 through 32), with each term to run consecutively. Major’s sentence was identical except that he was sentenced to concurrent terms of 135 months for Counts 1, 2, and 33 through 62. Thus, Huff was sentenced to 8,941 months (745 years, 1 month) and Major to 8,955 months (746 years, 3 months) imprisonment.

And here is the full text of Judge Noonan's notable separate opinion:

I concur in the opinion of the court except as to the sentences of over 700 years.  The court says, “No one could dispute that a sentence of almost 750 years is harsh.”  No one would bother to characterize such a sentence as “harsh.”  It is simply incapable of execution.

No known human being has the capacity to live 700 years. No living human being is likely to live 700 years. On its face, the sentence is impossible to execute.

The United States asks us to affirm this sentence.  It asks us to affirm a sentence that cannot be carried out. I do not believe that we should participate in this utterly empty gesture.

March 27, 2012 at 02:26 PM | Permalink

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The Ninth Circuit did not affirm the defendants' sentences, only their convictions. Their sentences were vacated and the Ninth Circuit remanded for the district court to deem a brandishing court of conviction as the first count of conviction for purpose of 924(c).

Posted by: Joanna Perales | Mar 27, 2012 2:36:59 PM

Wow pretty crazy, a 746 year sentence.

Posted by: Truck Accident Ocala | Mar 27, 2012 4:09:33 PM

Life sentences should be called life sentences.

Posted by: folly | Mar 27, 2012 5:46:56 PM

Wow... that's the first time I've heard of finite (non-life) sentences over 100 years that didn't involve child porn in a long time.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Mar 27, 2012 6:44:04 PM

this is just criminal!

I think anyone involved in this joke of a sentence from the DA to the juge to the appellate retards needs to be taken out and SHOT!

we can't afford to process and give trials to the people we arrest now and these retards want to lock up someone for 700+ years!

sorry CRIMINAL STUPIDITY! doesnt' even cover it!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 27, 2012 9:09:07 PM

I'm surprised that the feds don't demand to keep the guy on life support till he serves the sentence in full...Nobody is going to sneak out and get away lightly, by just merely dying on us...By God we are going to keep them alive till their sentence is served in full.

I wonder if they would get the full yr off if they did the RDAP program...Never know..Might not receive their good time days though.. 47 or 54 / yr such a massive generous qty... ( depends on ref point. )

Posted by: Midwest Guy | Mar 28, 2012 11:44:54 AM

Wow... that's the first time I've heard of finite (non-life) sentences over 100 years that didn't involve child porn in a long time.

Dudley Wayne Kyzer in Alabama got 10,000 years. That is the highest sentence I know of. But ludicrous sentences are not that uncommon; all you need is a combination of many indictments or a charge that has no maximum sentence and a judge (or sentencing jury) in love with ludicrously large numbers. Yes, the last 700 years of this sentence are purely symbolic, but judges and prosecutors love symbolic value. I know of one judge who sentenced a defendant with crazy views about the Rapture and the end of the world to two consecutive LWOP's, and specifically ordered that after he dies and is raptured he return to prison to serve his second life sentence.

Posted by: Paul | Mar 28, 2012 11:49:31 AM

These 745 and 746 year sentences are among the longest Federal prison sentences ever imposed, but not the longest. When Bernie Madoff was sentenced to 150 years two years ago, a newspaper wrote an article about the 20 longest Federal prison sentences ever imposed (as far as they could find). Madoff's 150 years doesn't make the top 20 longest sentences!

One of the strangest cases involves my friend Sholam Weiss, BOP Reg. No. 32610-054; according to the BOP's Inmate Locator, his projected release date (with credit for good time) is 11/23/2754! He was originally sentenced to 845 years in the Middle District of Florida for white collar crimes, which led to the collapse of a large life insurance company. Sholam had the longest Federal criminal trial in America in 2000,which lasted 9 months! He absconded 2 days before the case went to the jury, and was convicted on 74 Counts. He was sentenced in absentia and his direct appeal to the 11th Circuit was dismissed upon the Government's motion pursuant to the Fugitive Disentitlement Doctrine. Before he was captured in Austria, the time for him to file a 2255 Habeas Corpus Motion had expired. His convictions and sentence have never been reviewed on appeal. He did prevail to some extent on a 2241 Habeas Corpus Petition (the issues had to do with unfulfilled promises concerning re-sentencing and a direct appeal that the DOJ made to the Austrian Minister of Justice to get him to reverse himself and agree to extradite Weiss back to the U.S.; the European Convention on Human Rights requires an appeal in all criminal cases and doesn't recognize a Fugitive Disentitlement Doctrine)in the Middle District of Florida, where he was incarcerated at USP-1, Coleman, Florida. In the 2214 case, Weiss was represented by Prof. Steve Saltzburg of George Washington Univ. and the 2008 Chair of the ABA Committee on Criminal Justice. The 2241 Judge took 10 years off the sentence (reducing it to 735 years!), and entered a new Order of Judgment and Conviction, giving Weiss a new right of direct appeal. Weiss's appeal is presently pending and being briefed at the 11th Circuit in Atlanta. Weiss's 835 year sentence is believed to be the longest white collar sentence imposed in American history. Sholam Weiss is now 58 years old.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Mar 28, 2012 3:25:44 PM

so in other words jim the u.s.govt has a large number of show off idiots outthere! Sorry any sentence that goes "i sentence you to prison for the remiander of your natural life" is just criminal showboating!

Posted by: rodsmith | Mar 28, 2012 8:00:05 PM

In Sholam Weiss's case, the sentencing Judge could find no Federal precedent for giving a defendant in a white-collar case a life sentence. Instead, she gave him the statutory maximum sentence for each of the 74 counts of conviction and ran them all consecutive to one another (called "stacking") to achieve "total punishment", as defined in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Mar 29, 2012 7:29:30 PM

No one would bother to characterize such a sentence as “harsh.

Posted by: Snapback Hats | Jul 6, 2012 8:08:23 AM

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