Society & Culture

The Ranchers and the Mandatory Minimum

Two Oregon ranchers, Steven Dwight Hammond and Dwight Lincoln Hammond, Jr., have been at the center of ethical and cultural clashes for several years.  Even while a standoff purportedly held in their honor between armed militia and the federal government was occurring in January, the ranchers reported to the Bureau of Prisons to serve five-year sentences.  The father and son were convicted by jury in 2012 for maliciously damaging the real property of the United States by fire, in violation of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, Section 844(f)(1).  U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan originally sentenced Dwight, age 73, to 3 months’ imprisonment, and Steven, age 46, to 12 months and 1 day.  (Any sentence over 12 months entitles the inmate to accrue good time credit and thus the opportunity to get out of prison earlier.)

Judge Hogan found that both men “have been salt in their community and liked.”  He also noted that the fires caused little economic damage to public lands.  He recognized that Congress had decreed that anyone violating Section 844(f)(1) must serve at least five years; however, he declined to impose the five years, “because this sort of conduct could not have been conduct intended under that statute.”  The behavior at issue was the ignition of a series of fires on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, on which the Hammonds had grazing rights leased...

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