An audible gasp was heard in the courtroom on November 15, 2013 when Jeremy Hammond was sentenced to 120 months imprisonment and three years of supervised release.  (“Hacker Receives 10-Year Sentence for ‘Causing Mayhem,'” Mark Mazzetti, The New York Times, Nov. 16, 2013, p. B2 (“NYT”)).  The Huffington Post described Hammond as “an activist who uses computer networks for political protests and other actions.”  (“A Conversation With Jeremy Hammond, American Political Prisoner Sentenced to 10 Years,” Vivien Lesnik Weisman, “Huffington Post,” “Huff Post Politics,” November 19, 2013, p. 1 (“Huff Post”).  Hammond is a “prominent member of the hacking group Anonymous.”  (NYT, p. B2).  He has also been described as “working under the banner of AntiSec, an offshoot of the hacktivist collective Anonymous.”  (Huff Post, p. 1).

Months earlier, in May 2013, Hammond pleaded guilty to a one-count Information charging him with a conspiracy to engage in computer hacking in violation of 18 U.S.C Sections 1030(a)(2)(C), (c)(2)(B)(iii) and (c)(2)(C).  The information described the conspiracy as follows:

“From at least in or about December 2011, up to an including in or about March 2012, HAMMOND and his co-conspirators mounted a cyber assault on the website and computer systems of Strategic Forecasting, Inc. (“Stratfor”), an information analysis company based in Austin, Texas, which maintained the website ‘www.stratfor.com.'”

(“Sentencing Memorandum On Behalf of Jeremy Hammond,” November 1, 2013, p. 2 (“Hammond Sent. Mem.”)).

The Stratfor hack resulted in the leaking of 5.2 million emails and account information for approximately 860,000 Stratfor subscribers and clients including information from 60,000 credit cards.  (Huff Post, p. 1).  The emails revealed domestic spying on activists including Occupy Wall Street and a practice of surveillance through personal management programs or fake online personas.  (Huff Post, p. 1).  According to the Government, associates of Hammond used the credit card numbers to make at least $700,000 worth of donations to non-profit groups.  (NYT, p. B2).

Prior to his plea, Hammond had reached a plea agreement with the Federal Government in which he stipulated that the U.S. Sentencing Guideline range was 151 to 188 months’ imprisonment, but that the maximum statutory sentence of the offense of conviction was 120 months.  (“Government’s Memorandum of Law With Respect To Sentencing,” November 12, 2013, p. 1).  The statutory maximum controlled the maximum sentence the Court could give.  The relatively high Sentencing Guideline range was driven by two factors:  1) a loss amount between $1 million and $2.5 million, and 2)  a number of victims larger than 250.  (Hammond Sent. Mem., p. 4).  The Sentencing Guidelines, however, are not mandatory and are only one of many factors listed in 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a) that the Court must take into account when sentencing a defendant.  Federal District Judge Loretta Preska could have sentenced below the ten year maximum.

In addressing the Court at sentencing, Hammond stated that his hacking activities were “‘acts of civil disobedience’ against both an expanding surveillance state and the companies that do the government’s bidding.”  (NYT, p. B2).  This defense was echoed by his attorneys who stated that Hammond, “questioned the government’s use of private security firms to gather intelligence at home and abroad, and the free reign afforded to these companies to operate without public scrutiny or government oversight.”  (Hammond Sent. Mem., p. 3).  His crime “was undertaken as an act of civil disobedience.”  (Hammond Sent. Mem., p. 3).

Judge Preska disagreed telling Hammond, “there’s nothing high-minded or public-spirited about causing mayhem.”  (NYT, p. B2).

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