John C. Coughenour (born 1941) is a Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Before being appointed as a judge, Coughenour was a leading litigator with Bogle and Gates and has taught trial and appellate practice at the University of Washington School of Law.
John C. Coughenour
|Senior Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington|
|Assumed office |
July 27, 2006
|Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington|
|Preceded by||Carolyn R. Dimmick|
|Succeeded by||Robert S. Lasnik|
|Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington|
September 28, 1981 – July 27, 2006
|Appointed by||Ronald Reagan|
|Preceded by||Morell Edward Sharp|
|Succeeded by||Richard A. Jones|
John C. Coughenour
1941 (age 80–81)
|Education||Pittsburg State University (BS)|
University of Iowa (JD)
Coughenour was born in Pittsburg, Kansas. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Kansas State College of Pittsburg in 1963. He received a Juris Doctor from University of Iowa College of Law in 1966. Coughenour entered private practice in Seattle, Washington in 1966. He was an assistant professor of law at the University of Washington from 1970 to 1973.
Coughenour was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on August 11, 1981, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington vacated by Judge Morell Edward Sharp. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 25, 1981, and received commission on September 28, 1981. He served as Chief Judge from 1997 to 2004. He assumed senior status on July 27, 2006.
Coughenour has opposed federal mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of crimes. He also frequently visited individuals in prison to better understand the system and effects of mandatory minimums.
In 1995 Coughenour found Washington State's Sexually Violent Predator Law to be "criminal in nature". He ruled the law unconstitutionally violated protections against post facto laws and double jeopardy.
Coughenour wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, entitled "How to Try a Terrorist", commenting on Michael B. Mukasey's nomination for Attorney General of the United States. Coughenour compared his experience trying Ahmed Ressam with Michael B. Mukasey's trial of Omar Abdel Rahman for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. He noted that Mukasey had complained about "the inadequacy of the current approach to terrorism prosecutions." He noted that Mukasey had complained about the limited number of terrorism convictions. Coughenour paraphrased Mukasey: "Open prosecutions… potentially disclose to our enemies methods and sources of intelligence-gathering. Our Constitution does not adequately protect society from 'people who have cosmic goals that they are intent on achieving by cataclysmic means.'" Coughenour wrote that his experience: "only strengthened my conviction that American courts, guided by the principles of our Constitution, are fully capable of trying suspected terrorists."
On July 27, 2005, Coughenour sentenced Ressam to 22 years in prison, plus 5 years of supervision after his release. On February 2, 2010, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 22-year sentence Coughenour had handed down was too lenient, and did not fit in the then-mandatory sentencing guidelines which indicated Ressam should have received at least 65 years, and up to 130 years, in prison. The court ordered that Ressam be re-sentenced by a different district court judge than Coughenour. An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit subsequently reconsidered the 2010 opinion. The en banc panel agreed that the 22-year sentence was too lenient, but refused to remand the case to a different judge, instead sending the case back to Judge Coughenour. On remand, Judge Coughenour sentenced Ressam to 37 years imprisonment to be followed by 5 years of supervised release. The United States did not appeal the sentence.
We also welcome Judge John Coughenour. He is a respected judge who has significant experience with terrorism cases, having presided over the trial of the so-called "millennium bomber" Ahmed Ressam. He speaks with authority on the capacity of our constitutional system to handle new challenges.
Because the sexual predator law authorizes civil commitment of persons following a prison term, it has faced several constitutional challenges. The Washington State Supreme Court found the law constitutional in 1993. In 1995, U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour found the statute to be criminal in nature and thus in violation of constitutional protections against ex post facto laws and double jeopardy. This ruling has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.