Obama has now commuted the federal prison sentences of more than 1,000 prisoners, mostly non-violent drug offenders. Most have served far more time in prison than if they committed the same crime today, because previous mandatory sentencing laws have been relaxed.
Which brings us to H.R. 5815 — Resource Management Practices Protection Act of 2016 — introduced by Oregon Rep. Greg Walden. The bill would amend the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which was passed following the Oklahoma City bombing and requires a minimum of five years in prison for anyone convicted of damaging federal property by fire or explosives.
The bill would exempt from prosecution anyone who sets a fire on his own property to prevent damage — such as a backfire — or if that person is using a generally accepted practice for managing vegetation on timber, grazing, or farm land and fire doesn’t result in death or serious bodily injury.
Which brings us to Dwight Hammond and his son Steven, two Oregon ranchers now serving mandatory five-year sentences because fires set on their own property escaped onto federal land, burning 140 acres — one was a controlled burn and the other a backfire.
Even if passed, the bill would not result in the freeing of the Hammonds but could protect others from such frivolous prosecution in the future.
The bill has cosponsors from Idaho, Washington, Arizona and Utah but none from Nevada.
It was the sentencing of the Hammonds that prompted protesters earlier this year to takeover a federal wildlife refuge for more than a month. The protesters included two of the Bunkerville Bundy brothers, already notorious for their standoff with federal agents in 2014 who were trying to confiscate their cattle.
A jury earlier this year refused to the prosecute the Bundys and other protesters for the refuge takeover, but the Bundys and others face charges next year over the Bunkerville incident.
Obama announced in 2014 that he would use commutations to right the wrong of overly harsh sentences that did not fit the crime.
The Hammonds would appear to fit in that category.