Friday, July 6, 2007

Letter to Lewis Libby

Below is a letter to Lewis Libby. I would send it to his home if only I could find his address. Since I can’t, I’ll settle for posting it on this blog.

Dear Mr. Libby,

I was recently relieved (though doubtless less so than you were) to see that President Bush commuted your prison sentence, saying:

I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby's sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison.

I believe our President was absolutely correct. Doubtless your attorneys will continue to argue that you are innocent, and I take no stand in this debate. However, even if you are guilty, I believe that 30 months in prison for the crimes for which you stand convicted is simply too great a punishment. This is particularly true in light of your numerous good works and lengthy service to our country. My purpose in writing you this letter is to point out that there are many Americans who, like you, were given excessive punishment for the crimes for which they stand convicted. Based on what I have read about your life, I know that you have a great capacity to feel empathy for your fellow humans. I would like to share some of their stories with you. I do not personally know any of these people, but am moved by what I have read of their plight. I will start with the story of Patrick Lett.

Mr. Lett’s life is described in a recent appellate opinion:

After fourteen years in the military, Lett returned to civilian life the week of Christmas in 2003. It was not a happy time for him. He had lost frends and seen fellow soldiers killed in Iraq. He had also seen what he described as “some very, very strange things.” While he was in Iraq, his fiancee died. When he came home his father was dying. He had trouble supporting his children. He felt pressured. He was depressed. He began to drink heavily, which only helped the downward trajectory of his life. Lett felt, in his words, like “the lowest person on the face of the earth.

Lett then joined his cousin’s drug-dealing operation, and for five weeks delivered packages of crack cocaine for his cousin to various people. What Lett did not know was that one of these people was an undercover law enforcement agent. The Court’s opinion continues:

He felt guilty about his actions. He realized . . . that “it takes a cruel-hearted person to actually take advantage of someone who has . . . addiction,” and he “decided to . . . ask God to pull me back together, . . . which He did.” He quit selling drugs . . . .

Lett re-elisted in the military in October, 2004, and again rendered exemplary service to his country. His superior officers attested that Lett, a sergeant, was an outstanding soldier dedicated to the welfare of his men and to accomplishing whatever mission he was given. He made his men’s lives better and his superiors’ jobs easier. His captain said that Lett “exemplified the Army values” of “loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, personal courage.” He would be willing to entrust his life to Lett. . . .

Lett may have thought he had left his past behind him . . . [but] in September, 2005, a grand jury indicted Lett . . . . Lett pleaded guilty to seven counts of possession with intent to distribute . . . . Lett admitted to selling 60.42 grams of crack cocaine and 7.89 grams of powder cocaine . . .

Without going into the legal details, the judge originally thought that he was required to sentence Lett to a mandatory minimum of five years. He did so. Then a law student pointed out that the judge was mistaken, and Lett’s attorney had also missed the error. A week after the original sentence, the judge resentenced Lett to probation. The government appealed, arguing that the judge had no authority to correct this sentence. The appeals court agreed with the government, along the way making the observations I quote above. Further appeals are still possible, but as things currently stand, the district court will be required to give Lett a five-year sentence.

Like you, Lett has done great service for his country. Like you, I believe Lett was given an excessive sentence for his crimes. Like you, he faced Government attorneys determined to argue for that excessive sentence. Unlike you, he has not, to date, received the benefit of a Presidential commutation.

You and Lett are far from the only Americans on the receiving end of an excessive and irrational sentence. Others include David Henson McNab (currently serving eight years for importing lobster tails in violation of certain Honduran regulations – though the Honduran government has given contradictory information about whether or not these regulations are in fact valid), Genarlow Wilson (currently serving 10 years for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl when Mr. Wilson was 17), and Elisa Kelly and George Robinson (currently serving 27 months for serving alcohol at their son’s 16th birthday party). Of the above people, Lett, McNab, Wilson, and Kelly are first offenders. I was unable to find any information on whether or not Robinson had a prior record.

While some amount of prison time might be justified in each of the above cases, none of these people deserved the harsh punishments they have received. Our system appears unable to recognize this or do anything about it. As you have yourself just gone through such an experience, I thought their stories might be of interest to you.


William Jockusch

No comments: