January 2011 Archives

January 4, 2011

The Governator Becomes The Commutator

As Arnold Schwartzenegger's term as California governor drew to a close in 2011, he commuted Esteban Lopez's prison term from 16 to 7 years. Schwarzenegger's decision was controversial, as many last-minute executive favors of this sort tend to be. 

In this case, Esteban Nunez was the son of Schwarzenegger's political crony, formerr CA Speaker Fabian Nunez.  Estaban had pleaded guilty in 2007 to voluntary manslaughter.after he was part of a group of inebriated idiots who took out their anger at being refused admission to a San Diego fraternity party by attacking and stabbing some party-goers, killing student Luis Dos Santos.

Predictably, Esteban's lawyer praised the justness of Schwarzenegger's decision, claiming that his client's 16 year sentence was overly harsh, a result of the judge trying to avoid any question of favoritism.  But for many San Diego community leaders, Santos' family and Esteban's prosecutors, Schwartzenegger's decision was unfair payback to a good buddy.

In a criminal justice system devoted to fair and open procedures, the executive power of pardon and clemency seems anachronistic.  Why should state governors and the US President be able to override a judicial system that already provides for multiple ways to redress possible unfairness?  But the power extends back to ancient Babylonian and Hebrew law, and it seems that no system of government can live without it.     

January 3, 2011

The Scott Sisters: My Kingdom for a Kidney

In December 2010, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour commuted the life sentences of sisters Jamie and Gladys Scott- so long as Gladys donates one of her kidneys to her ill sister within a year.

Gov. Barbour's decision is probably illegal as well as impractical. He is in essence charging Gladys the value of her kidney to secure parole. Yet parole is supposed to recognize inmates' rehabilitation, not their ability to pay for their releases. And what will the Governor do if it turns out that Gladys is not a suitable kidney donor-- throw her back in prison?   

Turns out that the sisters were serving a life sentence for a robbery that netted them a total of $11.  But if a life sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment for their crime, their release should have been based on that reason rather than Gladys' willingness to donate a kidney.

On the other hand, think of the possibilities if Gov. Barbour's decision starts a trend. States may set up parole conditions that resemble insurance policies that pay people amounts that differ according to the body part that an insured person loses. Donation of kidneys or liungs are biggies, worth a sentence reduction of at least 5-10 years.  Donation of a spleen?  Not so important, maybe advance a parole date by a few months. Donation of a brain to Gov. Barbour?  Priceless.