Libby judge ‘somewhat perplexed’ at Bush characterization of sentence as ‘excessive’

Libby judge ‘somewhat perplexed’ at Bush characterization of sentence as ‘excessive’

[JURIST] US District Judge Reggie B. Walton [official profile] questioned President George W. Bush's determination that the 30-month prison sentence for former vice-presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby [defense website; JURIST news archive] was "excessive" and therefore appropriate for commutation in a lengthy footnote to his memorandum opinion [PDF text] in the case published Thursday. Walton wrote:

Although it is certainly the President's prerogative to justify the exercise of his constitutional commutation power in whatever manner he chooses (or even to decline to provide a reason for his actions altogether), the Court notes that the term of incarceration imposed in this case was determined after a careful consideration of each of the requisite statutory factors, see 18 U.S.C. §3553 (2000), and was consistent with the bottom end of the applicable sentencing range as properly calculated under the United States Sentencing Guidelines… .

Indeed, only recently the President's Attorney General called for the passage of legislation to "restore the binding nature of the sentencing guidelines so that the bottom of the recommended sentencing range would be a minimum for judges, not merely a suggestion.

In light of these considerations, and given the indisputable importance of "provid[ing] certainty and fairness in sentencing… [and] avoid[ing] unwarranted sentencing disparities," [citation omitted], it is fair to say that the Court is somewhat perplexed as to how its sentence could accurately be characterized as "excessive."

Walton also ruled that the President's commutation of Libby's prison term did not necessarily remove Libby's supervised release and ordered Libby to report to the federal Probation Office, warning that "should the defendant fail to comply with any condition of his supervised release," Libby could be required to serve his prison term.

Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence [JURIST report] the same day that the federal appeals court overseeing the case unanimously rejected [order, PDF; JURIST report] Libby's request [filing, PDF] to delay the start of his prison sentence pending his appeal [JURIST report]. Last Monday, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald publicly questioned [E&P report; JURIST report] Bush's statements that the 30-month sentence was excessive, saying that the sentence was "imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencing which occur every day throughout this country." The Los Angeles Times has more.