activist defense

on the intersection of activism and legal systems

Tag: lynne stewart

new play considers the morality of punishing political crimes more severely

Although it arguably violates the First Amendment, judges still consider defendants’ political beliefs and public statements when deciding on sentences. This occurred, for example, in the cases of Lynne Stewart and Tim DeChristopher. Today’s New York Times includes an article by playwright David Mamet on his new play related to the morality of punishing political crimes more severely than other offenses:

In “The Anarchist” a woman has been convicted of murder, for participation in a bank robbery by a self-proclaimed political organization. She has served 35 years, a big portion of her life sentence, and pleads to be released; if the crime were mere robbery-murder and not deemed political, she would, by custom, have been paroled, with good behavior. Her argument has merit.

The rationale for continued incarceration under these circumstances is that in light of the prisoner’s beliefs, she poses more of a threat than someone convicted of a murder unrelated to ideology. But is this true? And even if so, isn’t it inconsistent – as Mamet points out – for a court to disregard political motives when it comes to mitigating factors but give them weight when it comes to aggravating ones?

happy birthday to former movement lawyer lynne stewart

Thirty-five years ago, Lynne Stewart was admitted as an attorney in New York. During her career, she represented activists such as David Gilbert, after the 1981 Brink’s armored-car robbery in Rockland County. In June, a panel of federal judges upheld her 10-year prison sentence for “providing aid to terrorism,” because she allegedly shared statements from Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, her client in a terrorism case, with his followers (via a press release).

As in Tim DeChristopher’s case, the judge who sentenced Stewart in 2010 cited some of her public statements, including a comment that she could serve her original sentence of 28 months “standing on my head.” The three-judge panel reviewing her 10-year sentence decided that consideration of her public statements did not violate her First Amendment rights. Yet Stewart shouldn’t be punished for her beliefs or public comments, the contents of which – in the words of a Los Angeles Times editorial in March – “don’t justify a quadrupling of her sentence.”

Today is Stewart’s birthday. You can send her birthday wishes by writing her at the following address:

Lynne Stewart #53504-054
Federal Medical Center, Carswell
P.O. Box 27137
Fort Worth, TX 76127