Federal appeals court upholds 10-year prison sentence for civil rights lawyer

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Thursday upheld [decision, PDF] a ten-year prison sentence for former civil rights lawyer Lynne Stewart [advocacy website; JURIST news archive] for her terrorism conviction. Stewart's sentence was increased [JURIST report] to ten years from 28 months last year after a federal judge found that she had shown no remorse for her crimes. In re-sentencing, the US District Judge cited statements she made after her first sentence, which he said demonstrated her remorselessness. Stewart argued that the court used her statements to increase her sentence, violating her First Amendment [text] right to free speech. In upholding the ten-year sentence, the court said that the sentencing judge had taken a number of factors into account, and that a statement demonstrating remorselessness is an acceptable factor to consider in sentencing. Judge Robert Sack said the sentence was not unreasonable given the seriousness of her crimes:

From the moment she committed the first act for which she was convicted, through her trial, sentencing, and appeals, Stewart has persisted in exhibiting what seems to be a stark inability to understand the seriousness of her crimes, the breadth and depth of the danger in which they placed the lives and safety of unknown innocents, and the extent to which they constituted an abuse of her trust and privilege as a member of the bar. We cannot agree with her that the sentence imposed on her was "shockingly high" so as to warrant a finding of substantive unreasonableness.
Stewart's lawyers said they would appeal [AP report] the decision.

Stewart was convicted by a jury in 2005 [JURIST report] on charges of conspiracy, giving material support to terrorists and defrauding the US government for smuggling messages from convicted terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman [NNBD profile] to members of his militant Islamic Group [CNS backgrounder]. The Second Circuit affirmed [JURIST report] Stewart's conviction in 2009, but ordered the district court to reconsider her sentence, finding that the current 28-month sentence was "out of line with the extreme seriousness of her criminal conduct." As part of his conviction, Rahman is subject to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs), which limit his ability to communicate with individuals outside the prison. The court found that despite being a lawyer, Stewart was bound by the SAMs and knowingly and willfully lied about her intentions to comply. The court also found that Stewart provided and concealed material support to the conspiracy to murder persons in a foreign country. Federal prosecutors sought the maximum sentence [JURIST report] of 30 years, saying that Stewart's "egregious, flagrant abuse of her profession ... deserves to be severely punished." In 2007, Stewart was disbarred [JURIST report] in the state of New York after her voluntary resignation was rejected.


 

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