Oregon Standoff

Oregon Rancher Protest Highlights the Injustice of Mandatory Minimums

The Hammond case illustrates how federal law forces judges to impose sentences they consider grossly disproportionate.



When Dwight and Steven Hammond arrived at a federal prison in California on Monday, it was the second time they went away for the same crimes. In my latest Forbes column, I explain how that happened and why it sparked a protest in Oregon:

The occupation of buildings at Oregon's Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by a group of armed and disgruntled ranchers has brought national attention to a case that illustrates the injustices wrought by mandatory minimum sentences. The men who took over the buildings last Saturday, led by Nevada rancher Ammon Bundy, broke off from a protest in support of Dwight and Steven Hammond, father-and-son Oregon ranchers who were each sentenced to five years in federal prison for setting brush-clearing fires that spread to public land. Unfortunately, the intense hostility that the occupation has aroused among progressives has overshadowed a case that otherwise could help advance a transideological alliance in favor of reforming our excessively rigid and punitive criminal justice system, which is especially rigid and punitive in its treatment of drug offenders.

Read the whole thing.

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  1. Come on Jacob! These guys only got 5 years for two blatant acts of terrorism. They got of light.

    1. of off

      I mean think about it. These guys set acres of federal land on fire and only got 5 years. Another guy only set his own underwear on fire and got like 4 life sentences.

      1. OK. I forgot that greater-than and less-than signs can’t be used easily here… Where’s my coffee.

        1. <

          Actually, it’s just greater-than. You have to use &lt; to produce less-than, though.

  2. “Hogan thought it was unlikely that Congress, which enacted that mandatory minimum in 1996 as part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, intended it to cover the accidental burning of federal land “out in the wilderness.” Such a sentence “would shock the conscience,” he said, and violate the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishments” because it would be “grossly disproportionate to the severity of the offenses.”

    . . .

    “In 2014 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed, saying “a minimum sentence mandated by statute is not a suggestion that courts have discretion to disregard.” That is why the Hammonds, who had already completed their original sentences, were ordered back to federal prison”

    So, I have two questions:

    1) Why can’t mandatory minimums be cruel and unusual? Since when is “I was only following orders” an excuse to do something cruel and unusual?

    2) Why didn’t the multiple punishments aspect of double jeopardy prohibit the government from imprisoning them twice for the same crime? Even IF IF IF the original judge was wrong about the Eighth Amendment applying, why does that mean their right not to be subjected to double jeopardy is forfeited?

    1. “I was only following orders” is ALWAYS used as the excuse. Sheep and all that.

      1. It’s used as an excuse, but it’s generally not considered a valid excuse for cruel and unusual behavior–and certainly shouldn’t be enshrined in case law.

        And this case does seem to be suggesting that mandatory punishments can’t be cruel and unusual by virtue of their being mandatory.

        1. I got that. Color me unsurprised that it’s the one they use; that was my point.

    2. For #2, supposedly since the prosecution appealed the sentencing at the time it was handed down. I don’t agree with that, but that’s what’s been offered as the rationale. I think that prosecutions should be, aside from criminal wrongdoing (jury tampering, bribery) by the defendant, one bite at the apple. The ability to appeal a verdict initially should only rest with the defendant.

      tldr; robed FYTW, we make the laws

      1. You may as well let the prosecution appeal acquittals.

        Better not say that, it will give them ideas. The Canadians already do this.

  3. SJWs only oppose mandatory minimums for minorities. They think white gun owners should be thrown in jail for life

    1. The evidence does point strongly to this.

  4. As far as I can tell, the liberal-ass complaint has been that these stupid rednecks aren’t getting the boot on their neck as hard as they would prefer. Let’s grant that they’d have been burnt out already if they were black or Indians or something…having some white idiots be brutalized as much as some brown idiots would be a good thing?

    1. Well, yeah. The solution to cops shooting a disproportionate number of blacks is not to look at why cops are shooting people and if it is really justified or not, but for cops to shoot more whites. The solution to prisons filling up with a disproportionate number of blacks is not to look at why their are being imprisoned and if it is justified or not, but to imprison more whites. That is how equality works.

    2. Yes.

      Progressives, generally speaking, also don’t want marijuana legalized. They want suburban white kids to be as brutalized by the drug war as inner city blacks.

      Remember, it isn’t justice they want, It’s social justice.

      1. Remember, it isn’t justice they want, It’s social justice.


    3. “having some white idiots be brutalized as much as some brown idiots would be a good thing?”

      I’ve been pointing out to leftists that AIM had many similar armed takeovers of government property and generally weren’t killed for it, so the argument “THEY’D BE DEAD IF THEY WEREN’T WHITE” isn’t even accurate.

      Native Americans once took over Alcatraz Island for two years. No one was killed ejecting them from the island – the only fatalities were caused by accidents during the occupation. What the left likes to do is cherry pick two instances (white people at Oregon vs. Tamir Rice) and say “white people weren’t killed, black people were killed, therefore racial bigotry!” Of course I could do the exact same thing – Natives at Alcatraz weren’t killed whites at Waco were, therefore the state goes around murdering white people.

      I don’t see many leftists claiming the Wounded Knee occupiers (who actually shot multiple cops in 1973) were terrorists, incidentally.

      1. Tell them that one of the Alcatraz occupiers would go one to be one of the most visible Libertarians and you’ll have them wanting to go back in time for their blood!

      2. But that was pre-terrorism days… 9/11.. everything changed… blah blah.. drone them now!

      3. “”THEY’D BE DEAD IF THEY WEREN’T WHITE” isn’t even accurate.

        Its not meant to be accurate. Its meant to be used to suggest that you and the Cowboy-hat-people racists and dismiss any other element of their story.

    4. It’s the only answer that reconciles a love of equality with a love of violence by proxy, obviously it’s what progs will go for.

  5. They are doubleplusungood so mandatory minimums are A-OK.

  6. “the jury in the Hammonds’ 2012 trial determined that the total property damage came to less than $2,000. “

    Funny that this is the first time this has been mentioned in all the press coverage i’ve seen.

    1. The BLM must really want their land.

      1. I’m guessing a bonus system based on expansion of land holdings, or consolidation or something.

  7. Also =

    well, Forbes, ay? A step up from the Daily Beast if you ask me. Also, far likelier to get some informed comments rather than the hyper-partisan proggy drek that….

    …. oh.

  8. If a professional hunting guide, two hunters, and their nephew/grandson witnessed them poach deer, then why didn’t the government charge them with poaching?

    1. Also, fire doesn’t really always hide evidence of killing. BLM must have a CSI team (they have a SWAT team) to do an autopsy of the dead deer.

  9. Mandatory minimums had widespread support for decades. These days the only people who support them are FBI trolls. They say things like, “Statistics show the first thing these guys do when they get out is head to a rich upper class neighborhood to case the houses.”

  10. For me the Forbes link says “Hi again. Looks like you’re still using an ad blocker. Please turn it off in order to continue into Forbes’ ad-light experience.”

    Fuck you, Forbes.

  11. If the judge handed down the sentence illegally, shouldn’t it be the judge who is punished?

    1. If the judge handed down the sentence illegally, shouldn’t it be the judge who is punished?….And if the Federal government illegally claims ownership and occupies State lands in clear violation of the Constitution, Statehood Enabling Acts, Equal Footing Doctrine and the will of the residents of the States…..Deafening Crickets. Until someone is ballsy and principled enough to take a stand. Some of us live in this area. Around my corner of the outback, which is 200 miles away perhaps as the crow flies, but right next door – I haven’t met anyone yet that thinks they are terrorists or anything else along those lines. Tonight at the watering hole the general opinion was that something like this was inevitable, and will continue to be until the underlying issues are resolved. There are way too many around here, (myself included) who have had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with the unelected, the unfireable, the completely unaccountable public officials of the BLM and FS.

      1. And the Sagebrush Rebellion and everything since then have not occurred for trivial reasons. Which is why the Occupy Malheur protesters won’t lose in the long run. At least not locally. If they are allowed to say their piece and present their arguments then we (…the we of the western colony/half bastard states not me personally / Standard Boilerplate NSA Disclaimer) will eventually win faster than what would have happened otherwise. If they are arrested and thrown into a federal rape cage for 300 years on some kind of completely obvious bullshit charge. …..Then even the dimmest light bulb in the valley may turn on. At this point a few dozen people have travelled a long way to protest the self evident facts of what could have been yet another obscure instance of petty tyranny regarding the Hammonds case. Anyone at this point who still thinks these protesters are some kind of nutjob statistical outliers may want to consider the fact that every western state has passed resolutions demanding exactly what they want to talk about. The 3rd option is of course the Full Clinton/Fast Reno. And you never go Full Clinton.

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