Federal appeals court rules 17-year sentence for Padilla too lenient

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta ruled Sept. 19 that a 17-year sentence was not enough for Jose Padilla, convicted on terrorism-related charges. Padilla and co-defendants Adham Hassoun and Kifah Jayyousi had appealed their convictions, and federal prosecutors appealed the sentence given by US district court Judge Marcia Cooke. Upholding all three convictions and ordering a new sentencing hearing for Padilla, the court explained:

[T]he district court “commit[ted] a clear error of judgment in considering the proper factors.” The district court attached little weight to Padilla’s extensive criminal history, gave no weight to his future dangerousness, compared him to criminals who were not similarly situated, and gave unreasonable weight to the conditions of his pre-trial confinement.

Specifically, the court noted Padilla’s 17 prior arrests and objected to a reduction of his sentence for the three-and-a-half years he was detained as an “enemy combatant” on a base in South Carolina before charges were brought against him. Dissenting judge Rosemary Barkett opposed overturning the sentence because doing so “simply substitutes this court’s sentencing judgment for that of the trial judge.” Padilla’s attorney has indicated he intends to appeal for a rehearing en banc by the Eleventh Circuit or to the US Supreme Court.

Jose Padilla has been the focus of much litigation since his arrest in 2002 on suspicion of conspiracy to detonate a “dirty bomb”—a conventional explosive surrounded by radioactive material. In June, Padilla appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit against government officials over his detention in a military prison, which he claims was unlawful, asserting that he was subjected to torture, denied communication with his family or lawyers, denied ability to practice his religion, and denied appropriate medical care. In June 2009, a federal judge in San Francisco allowed a lawsuit filed by Padilla to move forward against University of California Berkeley law professor John Yoo, the author of controversial US government memos arguing that detained “enemy combatants” could be denied Geneva Conventions protections against torture.

From Jurist, Sept. 19. Used with permission.

See our last post on the torture and detainment scandals.

  1. Dismissal of Padilla unlawful detention suit upheld
    The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond on Jan. 23 upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by US citizen and convicted terrorist Jose Padilla, who alleged that he had been illegally detained at a military jail in South Carolina. Claiming nominal monetary redress against Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and former secretary Donald Rumsfeld, among others, Padilla argued that the Defense Department’s methods of detaining him as an “enemy combatant” were unconstitutional. The Fourth Circuit disagreed and held that Padilla could not use a lawsuit seeking monetary damages to review an issue involving national security. The court reasoned that allowing such lawsuits “would expose past executive deliberations affecting sensitive matters of national security to the prospect of searching judicial scrutiny.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which brought the suit on Padilla’s behalf, was quick to express its discontent with the ruling:

    Today is a sad day for the rule of law and for those who believe that the courts should protect American citizens from torture by their own government. By dismissing this lawsuit, the appeals court handed the government a blank check to commit any abuse in the name of national security, even the brutal torture of a US citizen on US soil. This impunity is not only anathema to a democracy governed by laws, but contrary to history’s lesson that in times of fear our values are a strength, not a hindrance.

    (Jurist, Jan. 24)