What Can We Read Into an Amishman’s Sentencing? – Update for July 3, 2017

We post news and comment on federal criminal justice issues, focused primarily on trial and post-conviction matters, legislative initiatives, and sentencing issues.

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AMISHMAN GETS NAILED… IS IT BAD NEWS FOR INMATES?

amishmed170703Last Friday’s issue of the political blog The Kentucky Free Press had the best take on it: “Sam Girod was sentenced to six years in federal prison for making herbal salve without the king’s permission, plus $1,300 in what are essentially court costs, plus over $14,000 in restitution to his victims. He will also have three years of supervised release, is barred from owning firearms, and is barred from making any product regulated by the FDA.”

Sam, a member of the Old Order Amish faith, was convicted in March on 13 charges, including threatening a person in an attempt to stop him from providing information to a grand jury.

Eastern District of Kentucky District Judge Danny Reeves repeatedly asked Sam if he wanted to make a statement at sentencing, but Sam stubbornly refused, denying that the Court had jurisdiction over him.

More than 27,000 people have signed an online petition seeking to have Sam released. One non-Amish supporter, a former deputy sheriff, said, “This is a national disgrace and outrage… He is being punished for being stubborn.”

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Being a stubborn defendant is seldom a good thing… but a judge should not let it drive the sentence.

Sam operated a business that made products to be used for skin disorders, sinus infections and cancer. One product called TO-MOR-GONE contained an extract of bloodroot that the FDA said had a corrosive effect on skin. Sam argued that his products weren’t subject to FDA oversight because they were herbal remedies, not drugs, and requiring FDA approval of his products infringed on his religious freedom. The Old Order Amish seek to insulate themselves from the modern world, including modern pharmaceuticals.

Sam’s supporters say his case is an example of overreach by the federal government. “I don’t need the FDA to protect me from an Amish farmer,” read a sign held by T.J. Roberts, a college student.

Unsurprisingly, Judge Reeves had his own version of the truth, saying, “it’s not about salve. It’s about refusing to follow the law. Misbranding. Interstate commerce. Jury tampering…There have been some wild claims during the case.”

Ohio State University law professor Doug Berman said on his blog

“I always have a negative reaction to any use of prison time in response to what seem like non-violent regulatory offenses by a person who would appear to present no genuine threat to public safety.  And this case especially caught my eye not only because a lot of federal prison time was imposed, but also because… the applicable federal guideline range here was 63-78 months.  In other words, the sentencing judge here though the defendant needed and deserved a sentence significantly above the bottom of the applicable guideline range in this case.”

Knowsomething170703So why should anyone care about a stubborn Amishman? Maybe it’s just this: The judge who decided to hammer an Amish farmer, Judge Reeves, happens to be Trump’s newest appointment to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. Right now, he’s one vote on a four-member commission (three vacancies have yet to be filled).

Judge Reeves’ philosophy on sentencing is not yet clear to us, but we are uncomfortable with what we saw here.

The Kentucky Free Press, Report from the Courtroom: Amish farmer Samuel Girod’s Sentencing (June 30, 2017)

Sentencing Law and Policy, Amish Farmer sentenced to 6 years in federal prison for regulatory offenses and obstruction (June 30, 2017)

– Thomas L. Root

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