John C. Coughenour

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John C. Coughenour (born 1941) is a U.S. District Court Judge.[1] He was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1981.[2]

Before being appointed as a judge, Coughenour was a leading litigator with Bogle & Gates and has taught trial and appellate practice at the University of Washington School of Law.[3]


Coughenour was born in Pittsburg, Kansas. He received a B.S. from Kansas State College of Pittsburg in 1963. He received a J.D. from University of Iowa College of Law in 1966.

B.S. 1963 Kansas State College of Pittsburg
J.D. 1966 University of Iowa College of Law

Legal career[edit]

Coughenour entered private practice in Seattle, Washington in 1966.[2] Coughenour was an assistant professor of law, at the University of Washington, from 1970 to 1973. Coughenour was a federal judge to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Coughenour was nominated by President Ronald Reagan on August 11, 1981, to a seat vacated by Morell E. Sharp. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 25, 1981, and received commission on September 28, 1981. He was a Chief Judge from 1997-2004. He became a Senior Judge in 2006.

Coughenour testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 7 April 2004 and 4 June 2008.[4][5][6]

Sexual Predator Law[edit]

In 1995 Coughenour found Washington State's Sexually Violent Predator Law to be "criminal in nature".[7] He ruled the law unconstitutionally violated protections against post facto laws and double jeopardy.

Amhed Ressam case[edit]

Coughenour was the judge who first sentenced Ahmed Ressam, the "millennium bomber", who planned to blow up the Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve 1999.[8]

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.[9] 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.[9] 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:[9] “only strengthened my conviction that American courts, guided by the principles of our Constitution, are fully capable of trying suspected terrorists.”

Reversal, and remand to different judge

On July 27, 2005, Coughenour sentenced Ressam to 22 years in prison, plus 5 years of supervision after his release.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] 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.

Jason Scott Case[edit]

In 1995, Coughenour also presided over the civil trial of the Jason Scott case, which resulted in damages awarded against the Cult Awareness Network and deprogrammer Rick Ross.[13]


  1. ^ "'Millennium' terror plotter recants claims against Guantanamo detainee". International Herald Tribune. January 5, 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-06. 
  2. ^ a b c "Coughenour, John C.". Retrieved 2008-10-16.  mirror
  3. ^ "John Coughenour". Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  4. ^ John C. Coughenour (2004-04-07). "Testimony of The Honorable John C. Coughenour". United States Senate Judiciary Committee. Retrieved 2008-10-16.  mirror
  5. ^ Patrick Leahy (2008-06-04). "Statement of The Honorable Patrick Leahy". United States Senate Judiciary Committee. Retrieved 2008-10-16. 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.  mirror
  6. ^ John C. Coughenour (2008-06-04). "Testimony of The Honorable John C. Coughenour". United States Senate Judiciary Committee. Retrieved 2008-10-16.  mirror
  7. ^ Roxanne Lieb. "Washington's Sexually Violent Predator Law: Legislative History and Comparisons With Other State" (PDF). Retrieved 2008-10-16. 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.  mirror
  8. ^ Elias, Paul (April 4, 2010). "Court: Sentence for millennium plotter too lenient". The Huffington Post. Retrieved April 18, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c John C. Coughenour (2007-11-01). "How to Try a Terrorist". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-21. 
  10. ^ Bernton, Hal; Green, Sara Jean (July 28, 2005). "Ressam judge decries U.S. tactics". Seattle Times. Retrieved 2007-04-21. 
  11. ^ "'Millennium bomber' sentence overturned; feds seek longer one -". CNN. 2010-02-02. Retrieved 2010-05-06. 
  12. ^ U.S. v. Ressam, 679 F.3d 1069 (9th Cir. 2012)
  13. ^ Bjorhus, Jennifer (1995-09-30). "Man Wins $5 Million In Deprogramming Suit – Mother Had Tried To Wrest Son Away From Bellevue Church". Seattle Times. 

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