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William C. Altreuter
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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Christopher Hitchens gets it almost exactly right, I think, on the Paris Hilton sentencing debacle, but then screws it up by trying to draw a comparison with Scooter Libby. There is a difference between the trivial butterfly the California legal system is trying to break on the wheel and Libby, one of the architects of a foreign policy so catastrophic that it'll be a generation before the US is in a position to assert any moral authority on a consistent basis. In a sense both offenders took the legal process too lightly-- Paris shouldn't have been driving with a suspended license, and Scooter shouldn't have lied to FBI agents. The distinction is that Libby's offense was to the process. He was contemptuous of the government he was serving, a government of laws, not of men. Paris was just foolish, which actually is her job.

As I said earlier on the Libby sentence, in general it seems to me that the sentences that get handed out in US courts are unduly harsh. From time to time I sit it court, waiting for my turn, and listen to a sentencing. The calculations that are involved-- particularly on the federal level-- are harder than Chinese Arithmetic. The way it goes is the lawyers make their arguments, citing the circumstances of the crime, then whatever aggravating or mitigating circumstances there might be. These are often things that didn't come out during trial, and letters to the court about what a swell person the defendant is are often referenced. When that's done, the judge lets the ball drop. Sometimes its a more in sorrow sort of thing, but lots of times it seems like it's all the judge can do to keep from smacking his lips. I've seen a lot of heavy time get handed down, and more often than not the guy on the receiving end is a young black man, who will be a middle aged black man when he is next seen. I feel worse for those guys than I do for either Paris or Scooter, both of whom are getting off pretty light in the greater scheme of things.

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