Regular readers know that I'm no fan of wimpy sentencing, and that I've had it with the every-excuse-in-the-book style of defense lawyering. But there are limits. DOJ went well beyond them when it sought a life sentence for an Amish bishop convicted of conspiracy to forcibly cut beards.
No, that is not a typo, and I didn't get this out of the Onion. The story is here, in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Bishop Samuel Mullett is not Mr. Nicey, according to the government's sentencing memo. The story reports that, in addition to leading the beard-cutting conspiracy for which he was convicted, prosecutors "characterized Mullet as an iron-fisted bishop who exerted total control over his flock: He censored his followers' mail, had sex with married women under the guise of marital counseling, endorsed bizarre punishments such as confinement in chicken coops and spankings, and laughed at the attacks, which were driven by a crusade to punish those who spurned his teachings."
Those are bad things, and if they are true, they are properly taken into account in federal sentencing, see 18 U.S.C. 3577 (authorizing the court to take account of all relevant information about the accused).
But life? Is this guy Ted Kaczynski? Zacarias Moussaoui ? Not exactly. How does DOJ wind up recommending life for the ring leader in a beard-cutting conspiracy?
They might just be smoking weed, but I suspect something else, less groovy and more ominous, is at work.
This seems to be a part of the present administration's snarling hostility to religion. And one must admit the defendant makes a politically apt target. This "bishop" sounds like a first-class thug, and he heads a splinter group in what is itself a very small, conservative, insular religion that must seem to Eric Holder to be ripe for the pickin'. But this is taking liberal detestation of religion to an absurd extreme. What happened to government neutrality? Could a sentencing recommendation this far off the wall possibly have come about without at least an element of anti-religious bigotry?
What we have here is a 67 year-old man with no prior record (so far as I know or is reported in the story) who organized, and then (apparently) laughed at, beard cuttings. It's only when viewed in the funhouse mirror of Holder's Very Politically Correct DOJ that this could be seen as an LWOP offense.
Does the "bishop" deserve jailtime? You bet, and I hope he gets it. But life in the slammer? DOJ's action would be a joke if, on account of its menacing, if only shadowy, political and cultural motivations, it weren't so dangerous.