PORTLAND – Two members of an Eastern Oregon ranching family received too lenient a punishment for setting fires to public land, and they should be resentenced, a federal appeals court has ruled.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan illegally sentenced the Harney County pair to terms below the five-year minimum established by Congress, the Oregonian newspaper reported.
“A minimum sentence mandated by statute is not a suggestion that courts have discretion to disregard,” Judge Stephen J. Murphy III wrote in Friday’s opinion.
Dwight Hammond Jr., 72, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 44, were found guilty in 2012 of intentionally and maliciously setting fires in September 2001 near Steens Mountain, where they leased public land for livestock grazing. The fire consumed 139 acres of public land, taking it out of production for two growing seasons.
Steven Hammond was also found guilty of setting fires in August 2006 on the boundary of the Hammonds’ land.
Hogan sentenced the father to three months in prison and the son to one year and a day.