FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — An appeals court has ordered a new sentencing hearing for an American who joined the Islamic State and was given 20 years in prison after his capture.
When he was sentenced in 2017, Mohamad Khweis was the only American citizen to be convicted in a U.S. jury trial of successfully joining the Islamic State overseas.
Khweis traveled to Islamic State-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria in December 2015, even obtaining an official IS membership card. But he said he found life there distasteful and escaped after a few months. He surrendered in northern Iraq to Kurdish forces.
On Tuesday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, issued a split ruling on his appeal of the case. The court ruled 2-1 in favor of upholding the core convictions in his case, which Khweis’ attorneys challenged as they questioned whether he received proper notice of his right to remain silent.
The appeals court ruled that the method used by interrogators, in which one team questioned him without reading his rights to gain information for intelligence purposes, followed by a second team that read him his rights and used the information he provided in response to those questions at trial, was acceptable.
But the three judges ruled unanimously that one of the three counts should be overturned, and that he should receive a new sentencing hearing. That count, for using a firearm in a crime of violence, has been the subject of a recent Supreme Court ruling and has resulted in numerous successful appeals across the country.
It is not entirely clear whether the new sentencing will result in any significant changes to the 20 years Khweis is now serving.
John Zwerling, who represented Khweis at trial, said he thought the ruling might knock five years off his sentence. But he said he hopes the court-appointed attorney who now represents Khweis will seek a review of the conviction before a full panel of the 4th Circuit.
He said the dissent in the case accurately spells out how Khweis, after providing numerous details to the first group of interrogators, mistakenly assumed that the information he provided could be used against him. So when he actually received his Miranda rights from the second team of interrogators, he saw no practical reason to assert them.
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