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September 21, 2012

Stark extremes for forthcoming debate over federal sentencing of Amish beard-cutters

Amish-attacks-11763351jpg-f6d9699bab380109I have just seen from the start of this Cleveland Plain Dealer article that the basic terms for debating the federal sentencing outcome in the remarkable Amish beard-cutting criminal case are apparently already set at stark extremes. Here is how the article discussing yesterday's convictions describes the case and its forthcoming sentencing prospects:

Amish bishop Samuel Mullet was convicted Thursday of federal hate crimes and conspiracy for exhorting followers to forcibly shear the hair and beards of those who opposed his breakaway Ohio sect.  Mullet’s three sons, his daughter, and 11 other family members and followers from his ultra-strict Amish order 100 miles southeast of Cleveland also were convicted of conspiracy and hate crimes after a trial that attracted international attention.

The 66-year-old bishop could face life in prison for his crimes. U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster scheduled sentencing hearings for Jan. 24.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Bridget Brennan said federal sentencing guidelines recommend a minimum of 17 ½ years for the other 15 defendants given that their crimes involved violence and kidnapping.   But defense attorneys said the judge has the discretion to sentence some of Mullet’s followers to as little as time already served in county jails.

In addition, this new AP article, headlined "Bond at risk for Ohio Amish hate-crime defendants," provides more details on just some of the interesting sentencing issues now joined:

Nine of 16 Amish convicted in beard- and hair-cutting attacks on fellow Amish in Ohio have remained free, but the government asked Friday to have them locked up, which could leave up to 50 children with one or both parents behind bars.

By law, "Detention is mandatory for these defendants," the government said. But prosecutors hedged, saying their strong recommendation for pre-sentence lockup of three of those most involved in the crimes would leave only one family with both parents in jail, not four.

U.S. District Court Judge Dan Aaron Polster, who presided at the Cleveland trial, gave defense attorneys until Thursday to argue for continued bond for the six women and three men.

Polster has scheduled sentencing for Jan. 24.  Ring leader Sam Mullet Sr., 66, faces up to life in prison and the lowest sentencing range for those out on bond is 17 years, the government said....

Brian Pierce, attorney for Elizabeth Miller, 38, the mother of 11 and married to defendant Lester Miller, 37, said he would appeal for leniency in view of her big family and lack of any prior criminal record.  Having both parents in prison poses "an extreme family hardship," Pierce said before the prosecution filing.  "They need to make arrangements in the event she is incarcerated."

Lester Miller, Raymond Miller and Linda Schrock were the three whose continued freedom on bond was opposed by prosecutors.

Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla, whose office has investigated Mullet's community for years, said Friday he had received calls from relatives outside the community offering to care for the children if their parents go to prison.  "It's Amish wanting to take these kids in. It's their relatives, it's their uncles, it's their aunts," he said.  "That's the Amish, that's their culture.  They are loving people, good people, God-fearing people."

When the 16 rejected lenient plea deals July 30, with some possibly getting probation, Polster quizzed the defendants about their understanding of the consequences of a conviction.  He asked the defendants if they understood possible sentences for a conviction, asked their ages and number of children and whether they knew that, in some cases, they could be locked up to age 50 or 60.  Most are under 40 years old.

All acknowledged an understanding, but one defense attorney said he wasn't sure they were really aware of the consequences. "It's something beyond their imagination," said Joseph Dubyak. His client, Linda Schrock, has 10 children with her husband, who was also convicted, and their 20- and 21-year-olds have been looking after the younger children during the trial.

Asked how the families would fare with long prison terms, Dubyak said, "Who knows? Not that it's a good solution, but the Amish are pretty resourceful and they are a family, the church unit. They all kind of work together."

Based on these stories, I surmise that federal prosecutors fully expect to seek sentences of at least 17-years in federal prison for even the very least culpable of these scary hardened Amish criminals convicted of these unique hate crimes.  And for the ringleader of these crimes, Amish bishop Samuel Mullet, federal prosecutors will apparently be seeking an LWOP sentence (the same sentence now being served by presumably similar federal criminals such as Unibomber Ted Kaczynski and Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols and Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph).

In contrast, it sounds as though at least some of the defense attorneys think they may have a reasonable basis to argue for time-served or probation sentences.  Indeed, given that just two months ago, federal prosecutors had apparently offered plea deals with offers of some sentences of straight probation, there is surely a basis to argue under the terms of 3553(a) that a sentence of probation may be "sufficient" to serve federal sentencing purposes.

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September 21, 2012 at 05:06 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Reading the superseding indictment it appears that, to make this a hate crime, the government had to, among other things, prove that an "instrumentality of interstate commerce" was used during the commission of the assaults. Do buggies seriously qualify as instrumentalities of interstate commerce? And looking at the sentencing enhancment for hate crimes, it was applied a whopping 35 times last year out of over 86,000 cases. Really? By the way, Holder had to sign off on the prosecution and get the state of Ohio to claim that it did not have jurisdiction to bring the case. Sounds like what farm animals make a lot of......

Posted by: Mark Allenbaugh | Sep 21, 2012 6:51:09 PM

If what Mr. Allenbaugh says about Holder's personal approval of this prosecution is correct -- and I have no reason to doubt it -- then what we have here is the AG's getting briefed on a haircutting case in Ohio with no discernable federal interest, whle, according to he IG's report last week, remaining oblivious to his own Department's long-running project to provide guns to violent Mexican gangs.

If this were Alberto Gonzales, the press would be screaming for the AG's resignation.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Sep 23, 2012 9:27:13 AM

If this was anything but a criminal conspiracy pretending to be a GOVT! the PRESIDENT would be the one to FIRE HIS ASS! followed by CRIMINAL CHARGES!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 23, 2012 2:40:09 PM

In prior comments, I discussed a new way to habilitate people with mental retardation. Atkins spent so much time with lawyers, his IQ went up, and he became death qualified. Naturally, Atkins was decided by mental cripples who failed to note Atkins was running a drug business from age 9. What were the Justices at that age?

So this story is full of irony. The lawyer can elevate the IQ of the mentally retarded, while simultaneously mentally retarded itself. I use the term of art "lawyer dumbass." It is not an epithet. It refers to an intelligent student who is mentally crippled by the legal education to a point of believing in supernatural powers, and failing to see the utter failure of every self-stated goal of every law subject.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 23, 2012 11:21:38 PM

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