Celebrating Stewart's Sentence
October 17, 2006 - 8:16am ET
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Today, defense lawyers and civil libertarians throughout the nation can rejoice in the news of the greatly reduced sentence imposed by Judge John Koeltl on New York defense attorney Lynne Stewart. Although the prosecution had asked for 30 years, Koeltl imposed a sentence of 28 months. Koeltl imposed the greatly reduced sentence, he said, because of Stewart's “extraordinary personal characteristics.”
“The seriousness of the offense does not wipe out three decades of service,” the judge noted.
Last week, Stewart sent the judge a letter in which she admitted to having violated prison regulations, but she added, “My only motive was to serve my client as his lawyer.”
"The government's characterization of me and what occurred is inaccurate and untrue. It takes unfair advantage of the climate of urgency and hysteria that followed 9/11 and that was re-lived during the trial. I did not intentionally enter into any plot or conspiracy to aid a terrorist organization," wrote Stewart.
Stewart had asked to serve her sentence under house arrest because of her age (66), her battle with breast cancer, and her years of public service, attested to by hundreds of letters from friends and colleagues to the court.
The sentence reduction is important not just to Stewart but to all of us because it illustrates distinctions that the Justice Department seems incapable of making these days: the distinction between someone who violates a regulation (not a criminal offense) and someone who engages in terrorist acts or intentionally promotes such ends. The distinction, in the end, between bad judgment and criminal intent, or even between innocence and guilt.
These distinctions have been increasingly obscured since 9/11, to the detriment of the rule of law. They have often been glossed over by prosecutors who take advantage of legal definitions and loopholes—and long weeks of inflammatory and barely relevant testimony often in joint trials of several persons who are not equally culpable—all to exhaust and muddle juries into buying wholesale conclusions built not on solid collections of relevant facts but on mere piles of suppositions.
Koeltl was able to make important distinctions about Stewart. This is good for justice, good for the rule of law, good for us all.
Ed. Note: Jennifer Van Bergen, a writer with a law degree, is guest blogging today. She recently wrote about Stewart's case for TomPaine.com.
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