Court says Padilla prison sentence too lenient

MIAMI Mon Sep 19, 2011 2:10pm EDT

Jose Padilla is pictured in this undated Florida driver's license photograph. REUTERS/Florida DMV/Handout

Jose Padilla is pictured in this undated Florida driver's license photograph.

Credit: Reuters/Florida DMV/Handout

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MIAMI (Reuters) - The 17-year prison sentence imposed in January 2008 on former Chicago gang member and convicted al Qaeda-linked terrorism supporter Jose Padilla was too lenient and he should face harsher punishment, a federal appeals court said on Monday.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district court "committed numerous sentencing errors" in its handling of the Padilla case and ordered that it be sent back to federal court for re-sentencing.

"Padilla's sentence is substantively unreasonable," the panel said, arguing that it failed to reflect Padilla's criminal history or adequately account for his risk of recidivism.

"Padilla's sentence of 12 years below the low end of the (sentencing) guidelines range reflects a clear error of judgment about the sentencing of this career offender," it said.

Padilla, a Muslim convert turned al Qaeda recruit, was arrested in Chicago on his return from abroad in 2002 and initially accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a U.S. city.

He was never charged with plotting a bomb attack, after then-President George W. Bush ordered authorities to hold him as an "enemy combatant" and interrogate him in a military brig where he was detained in isolation for 3-1/2 years.

But Padilla and two co-defendants were convicted in August 2007 on unrelated charges of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people abroad, conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism and providing material support for terrorism.

At his trial, U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami rejected prosecutors' contention that the crimes committed by Padilla and his co-defendants deserved life sentences. While they were "serious," there were no acts of terrorism on U.S. soil, no attacks on officials nor any plot to overthrow the U.S. government, Cooke said.

"There was no evidence the defendants had personally killed or maimed anyone," Cooke said at the sentencing.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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