Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Watch List: The Ever-Ignored Alternatives

"The prosecution of Compean and Ramos was about our commitment to the rule of law and about two former law enforcement officers who committed serious crimes. An honest reading of the facts of this case shows that Compean and Ramos deliberately shot at an unarmed man in the back without justification, destroyed evidence to cover it up, and lied about it. A jury heard the facts and voted to convict. Faithfulness to the rule of law required me to bring this case." - U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton

We have commented several times now on former Border Patrol agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean (see our Watch List) whose pardon is supported by several members of Congress. But we have not yet had the opportunity to sort out some of the clemency alternatives that are clearly being ignored as a result of the drama surrounding the case and its coverage. Much like the case of Scooter Libby, this is not a pardon or no pardon situation. Nor is it even a commutation of sentence or no commutation situation.

The agents were given 11- and 12-year sentences and entered prison in January of 2007. President Bush could commute the sentences to expire at a later date (as opposed to commuting them to expire "at once"). If he were to commute the sentences to expire, say, on January of 2009 or 2010, he would be reducing the length of the sentences significantly (by about 80 percent). Consideration of "good-time" might allow for an even earlier release.

The reason(s) that Bush could produce for such commutations could still recognize the offenses and respect the decision making of Judge Kathleen Cardone (who was nominated by President Bush in 2003), the the three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals in the 5th Circuit (which also contained a Bush nominee) and U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton (whom President Bush has described as a "fair guy" and a "dear friend"). After all, Ramos and Compean have gone to prison (unlike Libby). And Bush could certainly argue that he has extended mercy in a very significant way - just as he is being asked so loudly to do. Would this satisfy those who want a full pardon, or an immediate commutation of the sentence? Of course not. Please take all complaints to supporters of Mr. Libby.

More radically, President Bush could also grant a conditional commutation of sentence, allowing for the immediate release of the border agents contingent on a series of conditions. This would be the functional equivalent of something like parole (which no longer exists in the federal system). Ramos and Compean could then petition another president for full pardon, at a later date. Again, in a sense, the final decision would be shifted elsewhere.

See the appeallate court's decision here.

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