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February 19, 2013

Judicious judicial views from US District Judge Polster when handing down Amish beard-cutting sentences

As regular readers know, the recent federal sentencing proceedings surrounding Amish defendants convicted for hate crimes generated considerable debate and commentary in this space.  I was pleased to learn that, among those following some of the blog discussion, was ND Ohio US Attorney Steven Dettelbach. I know this because USA Dettelbach late last week forwarded me a copy of parts of the sentencing transcript from the proceedings before US District Judge Dan Polster for posting.  USA Dettelbach also sent along these comments in response to this earlier guest-post about the sentencing (which I have modified slightly for clarity while preserving the substance and which I have received permission to post along with the sentencing transcript):

"The guest post failed to include any mention whatsoever of the comments that the sentencing Judge made.  It is possible that the guest columnist missed that portion of the sentencing, but some mention or discussion of the sentencing Judge's reasons and rulings would have been important in any fair analysis -- much less a critique -- of a sentence handed down by that Judge. Indeed, such comments might also be pertinent in fairly analyzing the actions of the government in a case before that Judge as well.  In fact, the exercise of such discretion, and the reasons provided, would be particularly pertinent to those who espouse the opinion that judges should be afforded discretion in sentencing cases that they hear as neutrals."

Download Amish sentencing transcript EXCERPT

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February 19, 2013 at 04:40 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I am happy to see USA Dettlebach has taken the time to chime in here about my earlier guest post. Dettlebach claims I did not mention any of the comments of Judge Polster. Apparently he overlooked this sentence: "While Judge Polster did an admirable job in detailing his reasoning — especially noting the irony of the Amish defendants trampling the very Constitution that makes their lifestyle possible — but for the absurdity of a federal sentencing system that has for years encouraged the judiciary to hand out multi-year sentences as if they are candy, one wonders how Judge Polster would have sentenced unencumbered by a sentencing regime that clearly did not contemplate the facts of this case and has otherwise run amok."

At any rate, I thank USA Dettlebach for providing us with the sentencing transcript, which I have read through. While Judge Polster does detail how serious he belives this crime to be, again, nowhere does he even begin to justify a 15-year sentence. That it was a considerable downward variance is of no moment given that the guidelines were so artificially high given USA Dettlebach's desire to treat this simple assault as a federal kidnapping.

At the end of the day, I stand by my original post: this should not have been treated as a federal offense, and the sentence Sam Mullet received was unconscionably high.

Posted by: Mark Allenbaugh | Feb 19, 2013 7:12:35 PM

All excellent observations Mark. What is being suggested as a downward departure from a guideline range of Life to 15 years for Sam Mullet, I prefer to call an upward departure from any of the other three federal sentencing guidelines that should have applied in this case rather than kidnapping. Even giving the government the benefit of every upward sentencing adjustment, including role in the offense and hate crime motivation, Mullet faced a sentencing range of 78-97 months pursuant to the aggravated assault guideline, 2A2.2, a sentence of 63-78 months pursuant to the hate crime guideline, 2H1.1, and 37-46 months pursuant to the minor assault guideline, 2A2.3. Again, the kidnapping enhancement was based upon a finding of "generic" kidnapping, defined by the Court at the government's urging as any restraint coupled with an intent to commit another felony. The defense unsuccessfully argued that something more akin to federal kidnapping should have to be proven, i.e. asportation plus holding for ransom, in order to apply the kidnapping enhancement. The simple nature of this offense, as well as any other assault type offense, would frequently involve the "generic" form of kidnapping defined by the Court at the government's urging. As Mark is correct in pointing out, this created an artificially high starting point to begin with. The only defendant to suffer the effects of this starting point, however, was Samuel Mullet, as all the other defendants suffered sentence at or below what they would have received without the kidnapping enhancement.

Posted by: ebryan | Feb 20, 2013 10:43:21 AM

I too agree that it was pleasant for the DA to drop by. However, I would like to point out that one can agree with the principle of discretion (by both judge and prosecutor) and yet disagree with the exercise of that discretion in a specific case or pattern of cases. The concept of abuse necessarily entails the power to be abusive. Where both the DOJ and the judge within the legitimate exercise of their power to do what they did? Yes. Doesn't make it right, or moral, or anything else. It makes it legal; that is all.

Posted by: Daniel | Feb 21, 2013 12:46:48 AM

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