“Enhanced Sentencing” a Gross Miscarriage of Justice
By Aishah Schwartz
WASHINGTON, DC – July 25, 2007 (MASNET & News Sources) MAS Freedom (MASF), as the civic and human rights advocacy entity of the Muslim American Society (MAS), has learned that on Tuesday, July 24, Sabri Benkahla, age 32, of Falls Church, Va., despite a prior acquittal, has continued to face vigorous prosecution by Federal authorities, and as a result of being re-tried on “lesser” offenses in February 2007, will now spend the next 10-years of his life in a federal prison.
In addition to the jail term, based on his being convicted on one count of perjury before the grand jury, one count of obstruction of justice with respect to the grand jury investigation, and one count of making false official statements to the FBI, U.S. District Judge James C. Cacheris also ordered Benkahla, to pay a $17,500 fine.
Under normal sentencing guidelines, Benkahla would have, at most, served a three-year term for his convictions, however, it seems that federal prosecutors were able to obtain a stiffer sentence by arguing that Benkahla’s alleged “lies” effectively promoted terrorism by obstructing a wide-ranging terror investigation.
Prosecutor Gordon Kromberg argued that Benkahla stymied an FBI investigation by giving a grand jury misleading information about his contacts on a 1999 trip to a training camp run by a group called Lashkar-e-Taiba, which the U.S. subsequently designated as a terrorist organization.
“This is just another example of how the criminal justice system is being used to transmogrify a legal jury acquittal into a double-jeopardy, back door conviction,” stated MAS Freedom Executive Director, Mahdi Bray.
The irregularity, if not illegality, of this form of “enhanced sentencing” should be obvious: in their zeal to prosecute and imprison those whom they consider to be political opponents, the federal government is willing to circumvent the decisions made by juries in criminal trials by charging persons found not guilty in court with even more indictments.
The obvious effect of this strategy is to wear down defendants, deplete their legal and financial resources, place further emotional stress on their families and communities, and finally, put them in jail.
And when they are imprisoned, the sentences for the “lesser” charges are just as extreme as the ones for the criminal charges that were already dismissed.
The American justice system is supposed to avoid double jeopardy – that is, trying someone twice for the same alleged offense. But Sabri’s re-trial and subsequent sentencing proves that double jeopardy is, indeed, a part of the government arsenal against Muslim defendants.
“If they can’t convict us in a fair jury trial, they’ll “get” us by a subsequent indictment on a different charge-with huge jail time if a conviction is won,” stated Bray.
MAS Freedom calls for the rejection of “enhanced sentencing” because it fails the essential imperative of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States-that is, the guarantee of equal protection under the law.
We believe that this promise of equality also applies to Muslims, and to all persons acquitted of crimes in a trial.
MAS Freedom encourages continued community support of Sabri, and his family, in their quest for vindication.
“It’s clear that Sabri’s conviction is a case of double-jeopardy, and we hope it will be overturned on appeal”, stated Bray.
Bray added, “We call on our community to work diligently to end the prejudicial treatment in our courts that threatens the freedom of Muslim defendants even after they have been acquitted.”