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Court Stands By Head Stand Lawyer Stewart's 10-Year Sentence

By Robyn Hagan Cain on July 05, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When a defendant receives an arguably-light sentence for a conviction, she should be thankful. She should not, however, express her gratitude by telling the gathered masses on the courthouse steps that she could do the prison term standing on her head. That’s because she could be subject to re-sentencing pending an appeal.

Lynne Stewart learned that lesson the hard way after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals instructed the district court to re-sentence her to determine whether she had committed perjury during her trial, and whether her conduct as a lawyer triggers the special-skill/abuse-of-trust enhancement under the Sentencing Guidelines.

(Yes, the head-standing braggart is a lawyer.)

Stewart was convicted of violating Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) limiting communications with her client, Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, reports Fox News. Abdel-Rahman was convicted in 1995 of a variety of crimes, including conspiracies to blow up New York City landmarks and structures, and planning to assassinate then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak while he was visiting New York City. Stewart represented him at his trial.

Though Stewart agreed, under penalty of perjury, that she would not "use [her] meetings, correspondence or phone calls with Abdel-Rahman to pass messages between third parties and Abdel-Rahman," she relayed messages from Abdel-Rahman to a Cairo-based Reuters reporter at least two times in 2000.

The SAMs restrictions covered relaying messages to the media, so Stewart was convicted for her role in the communications.

Initially, Stewart was sentenced to two years and four months in prison. She appealed from the judgment of conviction and the government cross-appealed as to her sentence.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, but ordered re-sentencing. Unfortunately for Steward, re-sentencing occurred after the head stand comment; Judge John G. Koeltl said public comments Stewart made after her first sentencing showed that the original sentence was insufficient, and sentenced her to 10 years, Fox News reports.

Lynne Stewart appealed once again, arguing that the re-sentencing increase based on post-sentencing statements violated her free speech rights, that the district court increased her sentence without justification, and that the new sentence was so "shockingly high" as to be substantively unreasonable.

The Second Circuit disagreed, noting, "From the moment she committed the first act for which she was convicted, through her trial, sentencing, and appeals, Stewart has persisted in exhibiting what seems to be a stark inability to understand the seriousness of her crimes, the breadth and depth of the danger in which they placed the lives and safety of unknown innocents, and the extent to which they constituted an abuse of her trust and privilege as a member of the bar. We cannot agree with her that the sentence imposed on her was 'shockingly high' so as to warrant a finding of substantive unreasonableness."

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