Justice Usually Seeks Longer Sentences In Obstruction Cases


The Justice Department under the Bush administration frequently has sought sentences that are as long, or longer, in cases similar to Scooter Libby’s, sayst he Los Angeles Times. Three-fourths of the 198 defendants sentenced in federal court last year for obstruction of justice – one of four crimes Libby was found guilty of in March – got some prison time. The average sentence for that charge alone was 70 months. Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a 33-month prison sentence for a decorated Army veteran who was convicted of lying to a federal agent about buying a machine gun. The veteran had a record of public service – fighting in Vietnam and the Gulf War – and no criminal record. Justice Department lawyers argued his prison term should stand because it fit within the federal sentencing guidelines.

Federal prosecutors said the Libby commutation would make it harder for them to persuade judges to deliver appropriate sentences. “It denigrates the significance of perjury prosecutions,” said John S. Martin Jr., a former U.S. attorney and federal judge in New York. Bush refused to rule out the possibility that he might later grant Libby a full pardon. Whether Libby would have to serve probation was in some doubt. U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton said it was unclear whether a defendant who had not done jail time could still be subject to supervisory release. He asked lawyers in the Libby case to advise him on the issue.


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