The Church Arsons and the Feds, Part II

As pointed out in the last post, and elsewhere, this crime was committed by Alabamians, in Alabama, against Alabamians. So why are the feds prosecuting it? I suggest it is because the penalties are much stiffer in federal court.

In Alabama, the penalty range (assuming one charged offense and ignoring fines) for arson is 2-20 years, but the judge has a lot of flexibility to combine imprisonment and probation in arriving at a sentence he finds just. There is basically no appellate review of his decision. In the event of imprisonment, parole is available.

As for the feds (assuming the same conditions) the range is 7-40 years. The news reports are 5-20, but that is only if no-one is injured. If the fire injures someone (as this report says this one did) then the penalty is 7-40 years. The actual term will be determined according to the federal sentencing guidelines. The judge has a little discretion to vary it (thanks to a toothless Scotus case last year), but not much, and his decision will be reviewed and reversed by the Eleventh Circuit if the feds don’t like it. Probation is not an option: These boys are going to serve time. And they won’t get out early because there is no parole in the federal system.

Fans of the federal system think Alabama’s is for wussies; manly men like Troy King disdain ‘excuses’ and would punish all criminals as harshly as possible. Fans of Alabama’s system realize that every crime has its own context and tailoring the punishment to that context is the best way to protect society without unnecessarily inflicting pain.

This was a serious crime. But from ought that appears these are just dumb kids. A judge in Alabama can consider both of these facts when he is deciding on an appropriate sentence. The federal court will only consider the serious nature of the crime.

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