Monday, June 11, 2007

A good day for justice

Two unrelated court decisions today struck separate but important blows for justice in our country. First the United States Court of Appeals (4th circuit) ordered Mr. Ali al-Marri, a lawful immigrant who had been arrested in the United States and held without any formal charge to be released. Mr. Al Marri was originally arrested in 2001 and was about to go on trial for credit card fraud and making false statements to Federal Agents when he was summarily declared an enemy combatant and transferred to military custody. And that has been his status since 2003. Essentially a military prisoner in legal limbo.

Writing for the court the majority note...
“To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution — and the country.

...We refuse to recognize a claim to power, that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic"
This is a long overdue blow from the courts against an overreaching president who has unilaterally suspended the writ of habeas corpus. It may be that the goverment is correct in its suspicions about Mr. Al Marri. However, they need to prove that in court. Read the rest here.

In the second case a court in Georgia has ordered the release of Genarlow Wilson who was convicted of having consensual oral sex with a 15 year old when he was 17. Mr. Wilson was subsequently sentenced to 10(!) years in prison and ordered to register as a sex offender for life. This obviously disproportionate sentence produced indignation which crossed racial (Mr. Wilson is African American) and political lines. The Georgia state legislature later changed the law making consensual oral sex between teenagers a misdemeanor. However the district attorney who prosecuted Mr. Wilson (originally for rape) refused to recognize the law as applying retroactively. And he fought tooth and nail against any reduction in his sentence unless Wilson acknowledged guilt and accepted the sex offender registration. The judge in today's hearing reduced Wilson's sentence to one year in jail (the maximum sentence under the new law) and removed the taint of registering as a sex offender.

Since Mr. Wilson has already served two years in prison this should translates into an immediate release. Sadly the state is appealing this decision. Worse it is possible that the State Attorney General may be correct on the letter of the law when arguing that a court can not arbitrarily reduce the sentence imposed by a trial court. The obvious solution is for the governor to step in and simply commute his sentence to time served or better still, grant him a full pardon so Mr. Wilson does not have a felony criminal record hanging over him for the rest of his life. This young man has already been the victim of an egregious miscarriage of justice. It's time to end the games people are playing with his life.

Read the story here.

1 comment:

Aaron Joshua Oliver said...

I agree with what you say 100%. Unfortunately, I believe, the governor of Georgia does not have the authority of pardon. I hope that this boy is released soon.