Drug Policy

Bush Discovers That Drug Sentences Can Be Too Long

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In a column about last week's developments in federal sentencing, New York Times legal writer Adam Liptak notes that even President Bush has come out in favor of shorter sentences for drug offenders. Well, for one drug offender. And not much shorter:

Last week's most curious sentencing decision came from Mr. Bush, who commuted the sentence of Michael D. Short a few hours after the Supreme Court ruled. It was only the fifth commutation of his presidency, and the first involving crack cocaine.

Mr. Short had served 15 years for aiding a crack cocaine ring. Mr. Bush, without explanation, ordered him released in February, a little more than a year before he was to get out anyway.

Margaret Colgate Love, the pardon lawyer at the Justice Department for most of the 1990s, seemed eager to read a lot into the decision.

"The president's personal intervention to cut short Short's prison term sends a clear signal that he, too, is concerned about the excessive length of crack sentences," Ms. Love said. The decision, she said, "puts him on the side of the courts and the angels, and in opposition to Congress and his own Justice Department."

On the other hand, she conceded, maybe it was just a random act of kindness.

I wrote about crack sentences last spring and about Bush's meager clemency record last summer.