Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chuckie Taylor Appeals His Criminal Convictions and 97-Year Sentence

As we reported earlier, Human Rights USA welcomed an important victory for our clients in the $22.4 million civil judgment against Charles Taylor Jr., also known as “Chuckie” Taylor, for abuses they suffered at the hands of his forces in Liberia. Recently, there have also been some important developments in the U.S. government’s criminal case against Taylor Jr.

In 2008, Taylor Jr. was convicted of numerous crimes, including torture, conspiracy to commit torture, using a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, and conspiracy to use a firearm during the commission of a violent crime. His conviction was a watershed ruling in that it was the first conviction under the U.S. Torture Act (18 U.S.C. § 2340). Human Rights USA lent our international law and litigation expertise to the case, appearing as amicus curiae in the criminal trial. After receiving a sentence of 97 years in prison, Taylor Jr. filed an appeal and on May 10, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit heard oral arguments.

Taylor Jr.’s defense attorney argued that the Torture Act is unconstitutional in that it exceeds Congress’ authority by adopting a broader definition of torture than is articulated in the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT). However, Judge Marcus questioned this assertion, citing the CAT provision that recognizes that implementing legislation might be broader. The prosecution argued that the language of the U.S. Torture Act was permissible because it bore a “reasonable relationship” to CAT.

Secondly, Taylor Jr.’s defense team argued that the conspiracy charges against him also exceed the limits of CAT, stating that the conspiracy provisions of the Torture Act are not present in the CAT. However, the prosecution asserted that the relevant provisions of the Torture Act are permissible because CAT obligates member states to assure that acts “which constitute complicity or participation in torture” are punishable under the state’s criminal law.

Lastly, Taylor Jr.’s defense attorney argued that the U.S. statute used to determine sentencing for using a firearm while committing a crime of violence does not apply extraterritorially, meaning it would not apply to Taylor Jr.’s crimes, which he committed in Liberia. The prosecution countered that the statute states it encompasses any crime which “may be prosecuted in the United States” as opposed to “committed in the United States,” which would indicate a more restrictive scope.

Defense counsel for Taylor Jr. also argued in briefs that the trial was fundamentally unfair and that the 97-year sentence was a result of a misapplication of murder and kidnapping sentencing guidelines. However, due to time constraints, oral arguments on these two matters were not heard.

At Human Rights USA we will continue to follow the developments in this groundbreaking case while we work to ensure that our clients are able to collect the civil damages they were awarded to address past and ongoing medical expenses, psychological harms, lost wages, destroyed property, other damages inflicted by Taylor Jr. and his forces.

Thanks to Michael Campagna and Susana Martinez, students at the University of Miami School of Law, for contributing to this summary.

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