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Appeals Court Orders Life Sentences For 5 Somali Pirates

Storyline:National News

Five Somali pirates must spend life in prison for waging a mistaken and dramatically unsuccessful attack on a U.S. Navy ship, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that a judge erred when he sentenced the defendants to terms ranging from 30 to 42½ years.

The court returned the case to U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson in Norfolk and ordered him to impose the life sentences, which are mandatory for piracy under federal law.

Jackson had ruled that because nobody aboard the Navy ship was hurt, life terms were disproportionate to the crime and amounted to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

“It is of no moment that no one aboard the USS Ashland was harmed before the defendants’ attack was thwarted,” Judge Robert King wrote for the appeals court.

The mandatory life sentence reflects a rational legislative judgment that piracy in international waters “is a crime deserving of one of the harshest of penalties,” he wrote.

The appeals court noted that piracy carried a mandatory death sentence from 1819 until 1909, when Congress reduced the penalty to a mandatory life term.

The defendants could appeal either to the full appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court. Their attorney, Geremy C. Kamens, said he was reviewing the opinion and had no further comment. U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente said in a written statement that he was pleased with the court’s decision.

Source: Associated Press