Oregon Ranchers Will Have to Go Back to Jail After Already Serving Their Time

Oregon Ranchers Will Have to Go Back to Jail After Already Serving Their Time

Oregon Ranchers Will Have to Go Back to Jail After Already Serving Their Time

The Bend, Oregon, Hammond family is no stranger to the government. Father and son Dwight and Steven Hammond have been on opposite sides of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management for various offenses dealing with their cattle ranch as early as the 1980s. (Here is a long history of the Hammonds’ and government’s interactions). Back then it was about the government building a fence that would interfere with grazing and water. The latest offenses have to do with the Hammonds being convicted of arson for allowing fires they set on their property, meant to kill invasive plant species, to creep onto public land and destroy upwards of 130 public acres on one occasion.

The Hammond Family
The Hammond Family (courtesy of Bundy Ranch blog)

In the arson incidences, father and son were arrested, went to trial, and agreed to a plea agreement as the jury deliberated. The federal judge sentenced Dwight to three months, and Steven to one year and a day. They have already completed their sentences. The problem was that under the federal sentencing rules there is a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for the offense of arson, and it carries with it the designation of “terrorist.” The trial judge felt this particular sentence was too harsh in these circumstances to warrant five years. The government appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (after they had already served their sentences) and won.

The trial judge is now under instructions to resentence the Hammonds in accordance with the guidelines. In this case, since the Hammonds have already served their sentences, this will mean they will have to go back to jail to serve substantially longer sentences (with good time each will have to serve a total of about four and a quarter years). Dwight is 74, and Steven is 46.

In criminal federal court, judges must follow the mandatory minimum for certain offenses. This is often discussed in the context of drug offenses where the rules are routinely criticized as too harsh and counterproductive to dis-incentivize offenders. Here, the judge attempted to make the argument that five year sentences for these circumstances amounted to cruel and unusual punishment under the 8th Amendment. Judges are only allowed to deviate from the sentences in limited circumstances (one is for first time nonviolent drug offenders, and the other is for cooperation with the government in prosecuting other people).

This is a case where the judge should be allowed to deviate from the mandatory minimums. Dwight was only involved in the fire that burned less than an acre of public land, and the reason for setting the fire was not malicious. Steven was responsible for the fire that burned the 130+ acres, but again he says he set the fire for a specific non-malicious purpose. On another incident he set fire to create a fire break to protect his own land – this would have been legal except that he failed to file for a waiver in that case and so the government threw that charge in with the rest.

This is not a case of adhering to the noble principles of consistency and precedent. The Hammond family has a history with the U.S. government and it is clear from the effort the federal prosecutors are putting into this case that they are allowing that bad blood to affect the zealousness of their prosecution. This case is a good illustration of the irrational results that can be achieved when the mandatory minimums come into play. Allowing reasonable deviations will allow the punishment to better fit the crime and help restore trust in the badly damaged justice system. When the law is used in this way it only shows a powerful government bureaucracy out to crush the little man.

If you’re in the area, a convoy, rally, march, and protest are set for today, January 2, 2016 to show support for the Hammonds.


Convoy – 10am -Those wanting to travel together will rendezvous at Wilco in Bend on hwy 20 (Wilco, 2717 NE Hwy 20, Bend, OR 97701) Patriot Convoy from Bend to Burns

Rally – 12 pm – Meet at the Safeway in Burns. (Safeway, 246 W. Monroe St., Burns, OR 97720) arrive around 12:00pm. Bring flags, flowers, banners and homemade signs.

March – Right after rally – We’ll march from Safeway, north on past the Sheriffs/County offices, head east to downtown main street (Broadway) and stop by the Hammond’s home, drop off flowers in front of their home.

Protest – During the march – Bring coins (pennies, nickles & dimes), as we march past the Sheriff & County building we will flip thousands of coins on the walkways, sending the message to County leaders that they have failed to do their duty in protecting the people of Harney County from the federal government and instead have sold the people out.

– Contact your friends and groups to plan a sign-making event in your respective areas between now and the 2nd of January. We should have a good turn out, support our neighbors, and rally once again. We will be calling media outlets to let them know that Americans will be gathering in Burns to support the ranchers that are being treated like terrorists.

Dwight and Steven are set to return to jail on January 4, 2016.


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  • Ann says:

    This is an awful example of government prejudice. I hope the Hammonds win out and there are massive responses for their support. This could happen to any of us.

    • Jenny North says:

      That’s exactly right. The government can use the law in ways it is not intended so it’s important that we hold the line on what the law is. Another reason why the same sex marriage and Obamacare rulings have been so disturbing. They are putting things into the law that aren’t even there!

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