The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently decided to uphold the five-year sentence of a man who sent threatening letters to a federal judge in Nashville - including one that contained a white powdery substance which was later found to be a harmless artificial sweetener.
Herbert Wilfred Nixon sent the letters to Senior Judge Thomas Wiseman in 2002 after Wiseman sentenced him to three years in prison for credit card fraud. “The unsigned letters demanded money and threatened the judge’s life,” according to the 6th Circuit opinion written by Judge Raymond M. Kethledge.
Nixon pleaded guilty to making a false threat involving a biological weapon, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1038(a)(1).. While federal sentencing guidelines only called for a sentence of 30 to 37 months, U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr. decided to send a strong message and sentenced Nixon to 60 months, the statutory maximum. Judge Haynes also ordered that Nixon have no contact with any member of the postal service during his three years of supervised release.
Nixon argued that the sentence was unreasonable. However, the three-judge appellate panel upheld it, citing factors including Nixon’s criminal history and the fact that his hoax “required the government to spend resources responding to a bio-hazard threat and were meant to terrorize a district judge and his staff.”
The Court wrote that just because another appellate court might have imposed a different sentence does not mean reversal is appropriate. The Court found that given the circumstances of Nixon’s offense, his criminal history, and his refusal to be deterred by a prior 36-month sentence, the district court’s sentence of 60 months was not an abuse of discretion.
Nixon also challenged the supervised release condition barring him from contact with any member of the postal service. The Court disagreed again, saying that Nixon used the postal service to commit his crimes, so the supervised release condition was reasonably related to the nature and circumstances of his offense and thus reasonable. The panel found that condition was even more palatable given that Nixon was only prohibited from contacting members of the postal service; he was not barred from using the service altogether.
For the full opinion, click here.