Eugene The National Lawyers Guild calls the terrorism sentencing enhancement issued to Daniel McGowan yesterday an unnecessary and excessive government tactic to discourage the exercise of free speech. U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken sentenced McGowan to seven years in prison, calling one of the fires an act of terrorism because of a communication issued after the first that referred to potential legislation aimed at activists (which would indicate an attempt to influence the government). McGowan was one of four defendants who plead guilty with the understanding that they would not implicate others who took part in similar actions.
Ten activists plead guilty to committing property crimes—most of which were arsons—that carry average sentences ranging from 5-8 years in prison. The terrorism enhancement, Section 3A1.4 of federal Sentencing Guidelines, can add 20 years to each of the sentences laid out in the plea agreements. Formal sentencing began on May 22 and continued through today.
National Lawyers Guild Executive Director Heidi Boghosian says, "Is this what a terrorist is? Applying terrorism enhancement to property crimes where the perpetrators went out of their way to minimize the risk to human life makes little sense as a matter of law or common sense. Americans know the different between Daniel McGowan and Osama bin Laden, and this effort to subvert the fairness of the judicial system is an affront to the values they hold dear."
In January the Guild wrote to Judge Aiken urging her to not apply the enhancement for McGowan's property crimes:
"As an organization that has frequently defended the First Amendment rights of individuals and causes disfavored by the government, in the past 70 years, the National Lawyers Guild is deeply troubled by the government's application of terrorism sentencing enhancements to environmental activists. Many of our members are criminal defense attorneys, and many have seen firsthand the chilling effect the government has on unpopular views, from the House Un-American Activities Committee to the present-day labeling by the FBI of environmental and animal rights activists as a top "domestic terrorism" priority. The use of a terrorism enhancement in this case effectively punishes an act of arson more harshly on the basis of the viewpoint that motivates it; as such, we believe that it is intended to crack down on environmental activism more generally, by raising the fear that any misstep could lead to prosecution as a terrorist."
If the enhanced penalties suggest discrimination based on a particular viewpoint or ideology, it should be noted that they are not necessary: even without them the crimes to which many environmental activists have plead guilty carry significant prison time. The National Lawyers Guild believes that criminal acts must be punished according to the penal law, and that the law as applied to this case carries sufficient penalties.
Founded in 1937 as the first racially integrated national bar association, the National Lawyers Guild is the oldest and largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United States, with more than 200 chapters. The Guild has a long history of representing individuals whose rights have been violated by governments in the U.S. and abroad.