Tuesday, July 3, 2007
This is clearly a controversial move by President Bush - to commute the prison sentence of Libby. Some thoughts:
1. The Timing - Why did President Bush commute this sentence just hours after a three court panel (made up of two Republicans and one Democrat) had ruled that Libby would not receive bond pending appeal?
- President Bush states that the prison sentence here is "excessive" - but there is a big difference between 30 months and no time. One has to wonder why he didn't wait until Libby had served some time and then commuted the sentence. Was he afraid of Libby cooperating to avoid jail time? Was it necessary to commute the sentence immediately to avoid Libby moving from being a jailer to a cooperator? Bush's immediate dismissal of the entire jail sentence is suspect when he could have adjusted the sentence by waiting until Libby served some time, before issuing him a free "get out of jail card."
- And if he planned to commute the sentence, was this prosecution really worth it? Will it have a deterrent effect absent the jail time? How much money was spent on this prosecution and as a taxpayer was the dollar spent wisely here? If the goal was not to have Libby serve jail time, would an earlier resolution have been more appropriate.
2. Was this a political decision?
- Whether one calls this political or a benefit for the privileged, it is clear that the typical person convicted of a crime would not receive this benefit. This is a scenario so far removed from the norms of the system that one has to recognize that this action is clearly suspect.
- The judges involved in this case are far from individuals who would be considered activist judges - does this make the executive - the President - the activist?
3. What does this say about the Federal Sentencing Guidelines?
- A new departure from the guidelines has been created. It can only occur when the President of the United States authorizes it. It is not founded on any departure law considered by the U.S. Sentencing Commission or Congress. It is premised on whether you have a direct connection to the President.
- Can future defendants who are convicted with similar conduct argue that they should receive a sentence of no time so that like defendants receive like punishments?
- This sentence, perhaps high, was within guideline range. Does this case represent the need to revise the guidelines to offer first time white collar offenders softer and more reasonable sentences. Or is this case a one-time exception?
4. Recognizing the effect on third parties is important.
- President Bush recognizes the effect of this conviction on Libby's wife and children - they have suffered. It is good that Bush understands the injustice in society to innocent parties when someone is convicted of criminal conduct. But is this not something that all families of the convicted face. Should courts and the U.S. Sentencing Commission consider this in recommending a sentence?
Perhaps President Bush is correct that Libby did not deserve jail time. But what is bothersome here is that one elite individual is receiving this benefit while others with comparable circumstances will not have this benefit - it all comes down to who has access to the President. Is this equal justice under law?