Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Editorials: Where I rant to the wall about politics. And sometimes the wall rants back.

We’re all Scooter Libby now

Jerry Stratton, July 2, 2007

I haven’t commented much on the Libby trial, but my opinion is the same as it was during the trial of Bill Clinton: I’d love to see Bush pardon Libby at the same time as he introduces a bill to reign in prosecutorial abuses on everyone, not just the politically-connected (or rich).

To paraphrase what I wrote then, this is not happening because Scooter Libby was Cheney’s aid. It is happening because a prosecutor set his sights on Scooter Libby, and once that happens anyone is in trouble. If Republicans want Libby freed, they need to introduce laws that free anyone convicted under similar circumstances. “We do not need two sets of laws, one for politicians and one for everybody else.”

Most people are a lot closer to James Ochoa than to Scooter Libby. A presidential pardon is not something they can count on when a prosecutor tells them to plead guilty or go to jail for 25 years to life. When faced with the choice between a plea bargain and a lifetime in prison, a lot of people without connections are going to lie (as Balko says, ironically committing perjury) and accept the plea bargain.

Once caught up in our criminal justice system, many people—especially minorities—are assumed guilty. Most people cannot count on the prosecutor’s lies falling apart before trial. Most people cannot count on the justice system accidentally catching the real perpetrator and realizing it.

Prosecutors need to be encouraged to let the crime speak for itself. Currently, if a prosecutor has a poor case, they’ll try to get a plea bargain. Never mind that one reason for a poor case is that maybe the accused didn’t do it! Even when a suspect is completely exonerated, prosecutors will claim that they must have been guilty of something, and they’ll keep prying into the victim’s private life looking for it.

Prosecutors should be discouraged from continued fishing expeditions after the original crime has been solved—especially when the crime turns out not to have been committed by the person they’re focused on. Perjury should not be a put into jail free card.

Note: just as I went to publish this, I noticed that the president has commuted Libby’s sentence, but not pardoned him. This case comes to pretty much the same end as the Clinton case did: a symptom has been attacked, but the illness remains in place. So I guess we’re not really all Scooter Libby now.

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