A district court judge, in 2012, rejected the five-year minimum sentences required under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which deals with crimes including arson against federal property. The judge, Michael Hogan, said the particulars of the case would have made the five-year terms “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses.”
But federal prosecutors appealed, and an appellate court ordered the resentencing of the duo in 2014. They were given the tougher, mandatory-minimum penalties in the fall and reported to prison Monday.
A number of GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates have criticized the armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
But Walden said their case and the occupation is nonetheless putting a focus on mandatory minimums—and attracting wider GOP attention. “This incident, as unfortunate as it is, and in the case of the takeover, as inappropriate as it is, may highlight several issues, including that one,” said Walden, who is also chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s political arm.
“I think there are ... rural conservative Republican members who are looking at this and going ‘wow,’” he said.
Some other GOP lawmakers are making the same connection.
Rep. Raul Labrador, a member of the deeply conservative House Freedom Caucus, told reporters Wednesday that the Hammond case is a major reason why he backs sentencing reform.
“This is the perfect ... case where [the] judge would have been able to make a decision that was just and fair, as opposed to having the sentencing guidelines say that you must go to prison for five years for a particular crime,” he said.
The resonance of the Oregon case isn’t lost on advocates trying to scale-back tough mandatory-minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses that date back to the 1980s.
Earlier this week, the group Families Against Mandatory Minimums highlighted the Hammonds case.
“Federal mandatory minimums once again have destroyed a local community’s ability to hold its citizens accountable. A one-size-fits-all federal prison sentence, passed by a Congress that arrogantly believes it can foresee all the circumstances in which its punishments might apply, was used to send the Hammonds to prison for a minimum term of five years each,” said Kevin Ring, the group’s director of strategic initiatives, in a statement Monday.
But it’s not clear how the mandatory minimums at issue in the Hammonds case may intersect with the broader push for criminal-justice reform on Capitol Hill and at the White House. The main bills that are moving in the House and Senate include provisions that deal with mandatory sentences for drug crimes, Ring notes, and not the 1996 statute under which the ranchers were sentenced.
“Whether we have time to broaden the bills’ scope to address all these other crimes that carry mandatory minimums, that is not clear,” Ring told National Journal.
Alex Brown contributed to this article