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Terrorism against civilians does not need to cross international boundaries for a terrorist to receive a longer sentence than suggested by federal sentencing guidelines, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. The unanimous decision reversed a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., federal judge’s finding that he could not reach a higher sentence by treating Stephen John Jordi as a terrorist on his guilty plea in an alleged plot to firebomb abortion clinics in Florida. The three-judge panel’s unanimous ruling Monday could open the door to stiffer sentences for domestic terrorism against civilians. Although recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have made federal sentencing guidelines advisory rather than mandatory, guidelines must still be considered before a judge decides a sentence. The panel agreed with prosecutors that U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn could have gone higher than the guidelines. At issue in U.S. v. Jordi are rules developed by the U.S. Sentencing Commission to help judges interpret the guidelines. “The district court determined the guideline range and then improperly determined that it could not grant an upward departure,” wrote U.S. District Judge L. Scott Coogler of Alabama who was sitting on the panel by designation. “As a result, the guidelines were improperly applied and, thus, were not appropriately consulted.” Under the guidelines, an enhancement, or increased sentence, for a particular offense is an option when crimes like murder, kidnapping and arson were committed in an attempt to intimidate the government. In Jordi’s case, the government invoked a footnote allowing judges to consider an “upward departure,” which is at the judge’s discretion. The Coconut Creek man was arrested in November 2003 just before the firebombing campaign was to begin. Jordi had checked out possible targets in South Florida but later shifted his focus north. Jordi corresponded with imprisoned anti-abortion activist Paul Hill, who fatally shot a doctor and volunteer escort outside a Pensacola, Fla., women’s clinic in 1994. Hill was executed in September 2003. “I do not have the means to kill abortion doctors, but I do have the means to bomb clinics,” Jordi told an informant. “Maybe that way I can dissuade other doctors from performing abortions.” He was indicted on charges of attempted arson, distributing information on the manufacture of an explosive device and possessing an unlicensed handgun silencer. The government dropped the other charges in exchange for Jordi’s guilty plea to attempted arson, which carries a five-year sentence by statute. But Assistant U.S. Attorney John Schlesinger, now a Miami-Dade Circuit judge, argued that Jordi should receive a stiffer sentence because his plans to target churches he thought were too liberal, abortion clinics and gay bars were meant to “intimidate and coerce a civilian population.” Prosecutors contended that qualified him for an increased sentence under the sentencing guidelines applying the Antiterrorism and Death Penalty Act of 1996 and asked for a prison term of seven to 10 years. At Jordi’s sentencing hearing, Cohn said, “A higher sentencing range would more appropriately address the seriousness of the defendant’s conduct.” But he agreed with Assistant Federal Defenders Anne Lyons and Michael Spivack that the statutory definition of terrorism required that the crime “transcend national boundaries.” Cohn denied the government request for a harsher sentence than advised by the guidelines handbook and imposed a five-year prison term, setting the stage for the government’s appeal. The 11th Circuit said geography is not an issue in the sentencing guidelines for terrorism targeting civilians. The panel said guidelines require a two-pronged test: intent to scare civilians and whether the underlying crime is listed in the anti-terrorism law. The 11th Circuit quoted the sentencing commission’s reasoning in the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines manual: “The amendment adds an encouraged, structured upward departure … for offenses that involve terrorism but do not otherwise qualify as offenses that involved or were intended to promote ‘federal crimes of terrorism’ for purposes of the terrorism adjustment.” Circuit Judges Joel Dubina and Charles Wilson also heard the appeal. Jordi’s sentence was vacated and his case was sent back to Cohn for resentencing.

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