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Sentencing/Post Conviction

Commuted Sentence Within Guidelines

Posted Jul 3, 2007 9:53 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Updated: Sentencing experts note that President Bush’s decision to commute the 30-month sentence of former aide I. Lewis Libby Jr. is at odds with the Justice Department’s usual stance in sentencing appeals.

President Bush said in a statement released yesterday that Libby’s prison sentence was “excessive.” The vice president’s former chief of staff had been convicted for lying to investigators probing the leak of a CIA agent’s identity.

“In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation,” Bush said.

A $250,000 fine and a two-year probation sentence will remain in effect, affecting Libby's ability to practice law, the New York Times reports.

The special prosecutor in the leak investigation, Patrick Fitzgerald, was critical or the president’s decision. “In this case an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws,” he said in a statement [PDF from Fitzgerald's office]. “It is fundamental to the rule of law that all citizens stand before the bar of justice as equals.”

Libby did not consult with Fitzgerald or the Justice Department before making his decision, the Washington Post reports.

Libby’s sentence had been within federal sentencing guidelines, notes Ohio State law professor Douglas Berman at his Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

Berman says the president’s view is at odds with that expressed by the Justice Department in other cases. “Bush's Justice Department has argued in many fora that the guidelines merit faithful allegiance,” he writes. “It will be interesting to see if, after the president has made clear that he views the guidelines are ‘excessive’ for one of his pals, others with sentencing power begin to give less respect to the guidelines when the fates of less connected defendants are in the balance.”

Bush's decision also conflicts with Justice Department standards that generally require a prisoner to begin serving a sentence before a commutation is granted, DOJ lawyer Margaret Colgate Love told the New York Times.

Bush had previously limited his power to pardon to routine cases. The Libby commutation is his first in a prominent case with political ramifications, the New York Times reports in a separate story.

Originally posted 07-03-2007 7:25 AM.

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