The Hammonds, father and son ranchers, were tried and convicted under the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 for setting a prescribed fire in 2001 that burned from private on to federally-maintained land. The son, Steven, was also convicted for setting a backburn in 2006 to prevent wildfire from spreading to his property. The fires burned less than 140 acres of brush, doing around $100 worth of damage.
Although the act mandated a minimum five-year sentence for the crime of maliciously damaging property of the United States with fire, the initial judge in the Hammond case rejected the mandatory minimum, saying that such a sentence would “shock the conscience” and argued that it would be unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment. The judge sentenced Dwight Hammond to a three-month term and Steve Hammond to one year. The Hammonds were also required to pay a $400,000 fine.
The men served their time and were released, but, after several years, a federal appeal of the trial court judge’s ruling ended in the rejection of the judge’s ruling. They were sentenced to return and serve out the rest of their mandatory minimum sentences.
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