In commuting I. Lewis Libby Jr.'s 30-month prison sentence, President Bush drew on the same array of arguments about sentencing made by defense lawyers and strenuously opposed by his own Justice Department, says the New York Times. Critics say many federal sentences are too harsh. Judges are allowed to take account of facts not proved to the jury. The defendant's positive contributions are ignored, as is the collateral damage that imprisonment causes the families involved. Bush used every element of that critique setting out his reasons for commuting Libby's sentence.
That was an unexpected gift to defense lawyers around the U.S., who scrambled to make use of the president's arguments in their own cases. “The Bush administration, in some sense following the leads of three previous administrations, has repeatedly supported a federal sentencing system that is distinctly disrespectful of the very arguments that Bush has put forward in cutting Libby a break,” said Ohio State University law Prof. Douglas Berman. The Libby clemency will be the basis for many legal arguments, said Susan James, an attorney for former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who is appealing a sentence he received last week of 88 months for obstruction of justice and other offenses. “What you're going to see is people like me quoting President Bush in every pleading that comes across every federal judge's desk.” Said another law professor: “I anticipate that we're going to get a new motion called 'the Libby motion.' “It will basically say, 'My client should have got what Libby got, and here's why.' ”