Gov't Appeals Ressam Sentence

by TChris

After the Supreme Court's Booker decision, federal judges have discretion to impose the sentence that they believe best advances the goals of sentencing, even if that sentence is less than the sentencing guidelines advise. But just how much discretion do they have? We may soon find out, as the government appeals the 22 year sentence imposed on Ahmed Ressam for conspiracy to commit a terrorist act, among other crimes. (TalkLeft background here.)

Ressam had struck a deal with federal prosecutors to provide information against other terror suspects in exchange for a shorter sentence. But at his sentencing on July 27, prosecutors asked for [a 35 year] term on the grounds that he had failed to work with them and jeopardized cases they were building against other terror suspects.

In a surprise move, Coughenour sentenced Ressam to 22 years, saying that he believed the sentence reflected "the fairness and transparency of the U.S. justice system."

If it sounds to you like the government is sucking on sour grapes, you're probably right. The court of appeals will review the sentence to decide whether it's "reasonable," a standard of review that should be highly deferential to the sentencing judge, who was in the best position to evaluate Ressam.

The real question in this case is whether federal sentencing should be controlled by district court judges or (as has long been the case) by prosecutors. The answer should come in several months.

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