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March 12, 2012

En banc Ninth Circuit finds Millennium Bomber sentence substantively unreasonable

Because I am on the road, I only have time to note without comment until later this big Ninth Circuit en banc ruling in US v. Ressam, which starts this way:

The government appeals the sentence imposed by the district court upon Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber,” as substantively unreasonable.  We review a challenge of that nature under what the Supreme Court has described as “the familiar abuse-of-discretion standard of review.” Gall v. United States, 552 U.S. 38, 46 (2007).

Ressam was convicted by a jury on nine counts of criminal activity1 in connection with his plot to carry out an attack against the United States by detonating explosives at the Los Angeles International Airport, commonly known and referred to by its airport code “LAX.” His plan was for the attack to occur on the eve of the new millennium, December 31, 1999.   The advisory Sentencing Guidelines imprisonment range for Ressam’s convictions was calculated by the district court to be 65 years to life.  That calculation has not been challenged by either party.  The district court sentenced Ressam to a term of imprisonment of 22 years, plus five years of supervised release.

Upon our review of the record, we have a definite and firm conviction that the district court committed a clear error of judgment in sentencing Ressam as it did.  As a result, we conclude that the sentence imposed by the district court was substantively unreasonable. We vacate the sentence and remand the case to the district court for resentencing.

The full opinion (which includes a concurrence and a dissent) runs 73 pages and is likely to justify future posts once I am back at my desk.

March 12, 2012 at 03:03 PM | Permalink


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(1) The proper place to start to determine if a sentence is substantially unreasonable is the guideline range.
(2) The dissent takes an attitude that it's not possible for a prosecutor to recommend a substantially unreasonable sentence but that's untrue on it's face.
(3) It's possible, as the 9th concluded here, that all the sentences recommended to the judge were substantially unreasonable.
(4) The judge has an independent authority to sort that all out and I agree, failed to do so here.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 12, 2012 3:34:53 PM

i wouldn't call it big. a court of appeal found a sentence substantively unreasonable on a government appeal. not everyday, but not big. findinga sentence substantively unreasonable on a defense appeal, that would be news.

i'm not saying i disagree with the court. i'm saying only that substantive reasonableness review seems to have teeth only on government appeals.

Posted by: big bad wolf | Mar 12, 2012 4:08:44 PM

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