Tuesday, January 16, 2007

U.S. loses important terrorism case ... for now

U.S. v. Ressam (No. 05-30422). See here and here. You'll recall the millenium plot to bomb LAX. Ressam came into the U.S. through Port Angeles and was tried in Seattle. See 221 F. Supp. 2d 1252 (W.D. Wash. 2002). He was sentenced to 22 years on charges carrying a 65-year maximum. The government appealed the sentence as unreasonably lenient. Ressam appealed his convictions.

Today the Ninth Circuit reversed the conviction on one count--carrying an explosive in the commission of a felony--because: 1) the statute requires a relationship between the underlying crime and the act of carrying an explosive; 2) the jury was not instructed on such an element; and 3) the government did not offer evidence that defendant's explosives were used to facilitate his false customs declaration. The court did not reach the sentencing issue, but vacated the whole sentence. So the court gave Ressam a cookie and the U.S. a cookie. And they go back to the District Court to fight over the crumbs.

My sense is it'll turn out worse for Ressam. Granted it's rare you woundn't want to appeal a conviction garnering 22 years, but does it get any better under the circumstances? If I'm not mistaken, the U.S. wanted life at the outset of the trial; if they can ask for life on remand I'm sure they will. Perhaps better to fight the government's lenient-sentence appeal and rely on trial court discretion than to press reset as to one count and hope for the best.

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