Jan 04, 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.