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February 13, 2007

Still more buzzing about border agents sentence

As the buzzing continues about border agents case (background here and here), I am pleased to see a more refined focus on the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and the severity of the sentences received by Border Patrol Agents Jose Alonso Compean and Ignacio Ramos. 

As noted in this recent post, Senator Dianne Feinstein last week wrote various public letters (available here) in which she expressed her concern that "the sentences in this case are too extreme."  It is heartening to see Senator Feinstein asking AG Alberto Gonzales tough questions about the the exercise of prosecutorial discretion and the pursuit of enhanced sentences in this case.

Similarly, Debra Saunders now has this commentary in which she zeroes in on the sentencing unfairness that resulted from how prosecutorial discretion was exercised:

[U.S. Attorney Johnny] Sutton can point to inconsistencies in Ramos' and Compean's stories.  He is right to argue that law enforcement officials cannot be allowed to shoot at unarmed suspects or lie about what they do. 

For his part, Mr. Sutton offered both agents a plea bargain with a one-year sentence.  But at trial, the U.S. Probation Office [sic] sought 20-year sentences.  Prosecutors can argue that terms are stiff because of federal mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed with guns, but it was Mr. Sutton's choice to throw the book at the agents -- charging them for assault with a dangerous weapon, obstructing justice, lying about the incident and willfully violating Aldrete-Davila's Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal seizure -- as well attempted murder, for which they were acquitted.  That's a long sheet for acts begun in the heat of pursuit.

Some recent related posts:

February 13, 2007 at 06:42 AM | Permalink


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I really don’t see what the big deal is. These criminals did the crime, now they do the time. I am open to reform of our criminal justice system, but why does it have to be on the backs of people that just happened to be sworn law enforcement officers. More than anyone else, these people knew the consequences of their actions.

But, okay, lets suggest 1) specific statutory changes; and 2) retroactively pass them so we can let more criminals out of jail. It would probably save money.

Posted by: S.cotus | Feb 13, 2007 11:31:03 AM

Here's a simple suggested change, S.cotus: statutory mandatory minimum sentences are inapplicable to all first offenders. President Bust says America is the "land of second chance." That means the border agents, and Genarlow Wilson, and others can get more sensible senses for first offenses.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 13, 2007 12:26:23 PM

I too agree that there is way to much conservative whining over this case and not enough over other cases. But sometimes that's what it takes. Groups like FAMM and NACDL should be jumping on these guys' coattails and using this case to enact real sentencing reform (perhaps starting with Doug's above suggestion).

Posted by: A | Feb 13, 2007 12:45:46 PM

In a way, the worst possible outcome is a presidential pardon, since that would be just a one-off fix. It would do nothing for the thousands of defendants that have received equally outrageous sentences under the current regime.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Feb 13, 2007 1:34:09 PM

I am a paralegal student in Dayton, OH. It's a crime to sentence someone for telling the truth, when they knew they were dishonest in previous testimony. The reason is that in other cases the same standard was not used. These agents were being punished for spilling the beans. If the war on terror is so important to commit our troops, why not commit some of the experienced national guard where they're supposed to be stationed...at home guarding our borders.

Posted by: Brian Whitaker | Feb 14, 2007 12:01:52 AM

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