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July 10, 2018

President Donald Trump pardons Oregon ranchers convicted of arson, and subject to mandatory minimum terms, who prompted protests over federal lands

As reported in this article from The Hill, headlined  "Trump pardons Oregon ranchers at center of 40-day standoff," Prez Trump has used his pardon pen yet again for another set of high-profile and politically notable defendants.  Here are the details:

President Trump on Tuesday pardoned a pair of Oregon ranchers whose arson conviction became a focus for opponents of federal government land ownership. Dwight Hammond, 76, and his son Steven Hammond, 49, were convicted in 2012 and sent to prison on arson charges. They had set a series of fires on their ranch that spread to federal land.

The Hammonds’ case became the inspiration for the 40-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016. The organizers wanted to protest federal land ownership. The Hammonds distanced themselves from the violent occupiers and didn't endorse the action. One of the occupiers, Robert LaVoy Finicum, died, and a handful pleaded guilty to charges related to the occupation. But brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, the accused leaders of the occupation, were not convicted.

In a statement Tuesday announcing the pardon, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders emphasized uncertainties in the case and the prison terms and fines the Hammonds had already paid. “The evidence at trial regarding the Hammonds’ responsibility for the fire was conflicting, and the jury acquitted them on most of the charges,” the White House said.  “The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West. Justice is overdue for Dwight and Steven Hammond, both of whom are entirely deserving of these Grants of Executive Clemency.”

Both men are currently in prison on five-year sentences, thanks in part to a 1996 anti-terrorism law that imposed a mandatory minimum sentence on certain crimes on federal land.  The length of their prison terms, in part, fueled outrage at their convictions.

Federal judge Michael Robert Hogan originally gave the Hammonds reduced sentences in 2012, arguing that the mandatory minimums were unjust. But the Obama administration appealed, and federal Judge Ann Aiken in 2015 imposed the full five-year sentences.  “This was unjust,” Sanders said in her statement.  Dwight Hammond has served about three years of his sentence and Steven Hammond has served about four of his, and Trump’s pardon will set them free.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who represents the area that includes the Hammonds’ ranch, cheered Trump’s pardon as a win against federal overreach. “Today is a win for justice, and an acknowledgment of our unique way of life in the high desert, rural West,” he said in a statement. “As ranchers across eastern Oregon frequently tell me, the Hammonds didn’t deserve a five year sentence for using fire as a management tool, something the federal government does all the time.”

I suspect some folks on the left will attack this latest act of clemency as another politicized action for the benefit of the Trump base.  But I still recall this story and 2016 post about the Hammonds case, "Excessive federal sentencing and strict mandatory minimums at center of armed 'militia' occupation in Oregon," which highlights how much the perceived injustice here is linked to mandatory minimums and excessive federal sentencing terms.  Though I remain chary about expecting Prez Trump to become as ambitious in his use of his clemency pen as was Prez Obama at the tail end of his time in office, the federal sentencing severity that sounds this latest pardons makes me just a hint more hopeful that Prez Trump will at least somewhat deliver on all his big clemency talk.

A few of many recent related posts about recent Trumpian clemency activity:

July 10, 2018 at 12:04 PM | Permalink


I tend to take a more cynical view of Trump's actions as he seems more interested in "what is in this for me" then in doing something out of principle (although one could respond that self-interest is the most natural principle there is). The individuals he pardons appear to have either a following, or a connection to someone with a following. The inference then is that by pardoning these people, and thus bestowing a unilateral act of clemency on their behalf, the pardoned, or their popular friend (e.g., Kim Kardashian) will broadcast to their supporters praise for the President. Pardoning someone with no platform or following does not achieve this.

I could of course be wrong in my assumptions, and stripped of all ideological aspects, any acknowledgement of harsh sentences is a positive to those who believe strongly in the issue. Lastly, I think it is a trueism that the President's exercise of the pardon power is a political issue. I don't really understand the usage of the word "politicize" when one recognizes that "politics" is all around us, all of the time. Political scientist Harold Lasswell defined politics as "who gets what, when, and how," and this definition is still fairly standard in American Government textbooks. It recognizes, as stated, that politics is at the core of almost everything in a society.

Posted by: Anonuser879 | Jul 10, 2018 7:20:13 PM

They started a fire on their own property, and that fire spread to federal land? Seems like there is a strong possibility that this was a bogus prosecution. In any event, the former US Attorney is a complete twit. Saying that the pardons were a "slap in the face of the Constitution" is ridiculous and unbecoming a lawyer. This is why you have a pardon power lodged in the president.

She should know better.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 10, 2018 8:54:16 PM

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