Back in this post in April, I noted a story about the federal sentencing of Sergeant Patrick Lett, a defendant with 17 years of honorable Army service including two tours of duty in Iraq. There I asked whether a sentencing system that punishes prior bad deeds (via criminal history enhancements) ought also to reward prior good deeds through sentence reductions for, say, prior honorable military service. I suggested that, especially during a time of war, a sentence reduction based on honorable military service would tangibly recognize and reward service to our country.
Half a year later, a lot has happened in Patrick Lett's case. And, through a student, I have become indirectly and then more directly involved. Specifically, Lett ultimately received a below-guideline sentence (which allowed him to return to military service), but the Justice Department has appealed the reasonableness of his sentence to the Eleventh Circuit. Troubled greatly by DOJ decision to appeal and its overall treatment of Sergeant Lett, I have written and just filed (with the help of great folks at Holland & Knight) an amicus brief that assails the government's suggestion that Lett's sentence was unreasonable.
You can download the full amicus [brief here], and here's perhaps my favorite passage:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during his confirmation hearings last year stressed that prison is best suited "for people who commit violent crimes and are career criminals." Gonzales also asserted that a focus on rehabilitation for "first-time, maybe sometimes second-time offenders ... is not only smart, ... it's the right thing to do;" in his words, "it is part of a compassionate society to give someone another chance." Similarly, President George W. Bush in his 2004 State of the Union Address spoke passionately about the importance of showing compassion (and providing job training and placement services) to convicted offenders because "America is the land of second chance."
Judge Steele, in accord with these sentiments expressed by President Bush, Attorney General Gonzales, and Justice Department officials, obviously concluded that Patrick Lett deserved a second chance and that his non-violent first offense did not merit a long term of imprisonment. Given Lett's 17 years of honorable service to this country, which has included two life-threatening tours of duty on the Iraqi battlefields, it is hard to imagine an American more deserving of a second chance.
Sentencing and Military Service: