« Just why are the "waits" on Florida's death row so long? | Main | "Department of Justice FY 2013 Budget Request" »

February 13, 2012

"Underwear bomber" arguing that mandatory LWOP sentence is unconstitutional

Perhpas in part because there is no other argument to make at his upcoming sentencing, a high-profile federal defendant is making a low-probability claim in his sentencnig briefs (no pun intended).  This local story, headlined "Underwear bomber challenges life sentence," provides the basics, and it begins this way:

Confessed underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is challenging his mandatory life in prison sentence, arguing in court documents filed today that a life sentence is “cruel and unusual punishment” and unconstitutional.  Abdulmutallab, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Thursday, is facing a mandatory life in prison sentence after pleading guilty in October to trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner carrying nearly 300 people with a bomb hidden in his underwear.  He pleaded guilty to numerous criminal charges, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, and conspiracy to commit terrorism.

The plot was foiled when his bomb malfunctioned.  “Given the circumstances and what did NOT occur in the instant matter it is fair to say that the mandatory minimum sentence of life is excessive and grossly disproportionate to the conduct,” Abdulmutallab wrote in court documents today.  “Aside from the defendant no passengers suffered any serious injuries and there were no casualties.”

The government strongly disagrees, and has asked U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds to give him the maximum punishment of mandatory life in prison.  “Defendant is an unrepentant, would-be mass murderer, who views his crimes as divinely inspired and blessed, and who views himself as under a continuing obligation to carry out such crimes,” prosecutors wrote on Friday in a sentencing memo.  “He attempted to murder 289 individuals, no sentence other than life …. Could possibly reflect the seriousness of defendant’s conduct.”

In pushing for a stiff sentence, the government also disclosed on Friday details about Abdulmutallab’s relationship with a well-known al-Qaida figure.

February 13, 2012 at 06:19 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference "Underwear bomber" arguing that mandatory LWOP sentence is unconstitutional:


"Low-probability claim" has to be the euphemism of the year.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Feb 13, 2012 8:38:25 PM

Is this guy representing himself?

Posted by: C.E. | Feb 13, 2012 9:00:28 PM

He should get the maximum punishment of mandatory life in prison because it was his intention to kill all those people and commit an act of terrorism.

Posted by: Robert | Feb 14, 2012 2:36:30 AM

The problem is the Supreme Court. When they held that no matter what the offense, no matter how depraved, no matter what intent, a non homicide can never justify LWOP on a juvenile, they opened the door to this silliness that success in the criminal plot trumps intent no matter what. Carving out homicides (i.e. the results) essentially says that the result, and not the intent, has the primary constitutional significance.

I know this case does not involve a minor but really, how is it constitutionally different in the USSC's view except for results. Consider this, a minor beats, rapes, robs and shoots with the intent to kill his victim but she doesn't die because a passerby finds her for prompt medical attention compared to the same minor and the same crime when the victim dies because no one finds her until it is too late. One can get LWOP, for now, one cannot. This is the current state of the Eighth Amendment. The distinction has nothing to do with being a minor and has everything to do with the result, which suggests their view is the result, and not the intent, has constitutional significance.

Posted by: David | Feb 14, 2012 10:23:22 AM

David, the law is about these kinds of distinctions. By your logic, if I discharge a gun toward someone and miss, I should be eligible for the death penalty. After all, it was just my bad marksmanship that prevented an intentional murder. But I'm not. I'm going to be charged with attempted murder and will face some term of years. This is what the law does. It draws lines. This difference is that this person was over the age of 18 when he committed his offense. The phrase "cruel and unusual" has not inherent meaning. Meaning must be given to the phrase and the entity charged with doing that is the Supreme Court. If you don't like the lines they draw, well you are free to call them silly I guess.

Posted by: Ala JD | Feb 14, 2012 11:42:58 AM


Not only should that person be death eligible upon conviction such an offense should be death presumptive. It should be up to the offender after a felony conviction to show why they should be spared, not up to the state to show why a particular offender deserves death.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Feb 14, 2012 11:52:56 AM

Ala JD. I have no problem with the Legislature drawing such distinctions, but it is entirely different when the Court says the Constitution places such distinctions in an arbitrary way. In fact, when the Legislature creates arbitrary distinctions that is itself often unconstitutional.

One of the significant reasons you are not eligible for death for attempted murder is because the Supreme Court will not allow it, not because it is a exercise in (necessary?) line drawing in the law. When you fully intend on murder and it is premeditated, what difference does it make that extraordinary medical attention, bad marksmanship, or a poor choice of equipment prevented the intended goal. What happens when the victim is alive, but a vegetable, or physically and emotionally scarred for life?

I am not a big fan of bad (good) luck increasing or decreasing a punishment for those trying to kill others. To me it is an unprincipled distinction. If you do not agree then you should really have no problem with the felony murder rule since it punishes, sometimes with the death penalty, deaths that result from the commission of an enumerated felony, even if the death was an accident or if the defendant carefully planned the crime to avoid it.

At least the felony murder rule has behind it the concept of deterrence of the commission of crimes that have a higher risk of death. The Supreme Court's recent 8th Amendment jurisprudence has the risk of application outside of juveniles and mentally retarted persons that will reduce deterrence of such crimes simply because not everyone will die and therefore there will be calls to reduce the punishment because to equate it with murder would be "cruel and unusual." This is exactly what has happened in the underwear bomber case and he will get a serious look at this argument in the Court of Appeal.

Posted by: David | Feb 15, 2012 10:15:01 AM

I was not aware of this info that he challenged his prison. I feel really glad after knowing about this news because want to know the follow up story about underwear bomber. Thanks for aware me about this news.

Posted by: Mens Swimwear | Mar 22, 2012 12:25:27 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB