For his part, Sutton offered both agents a plea bargain with a one-year sentence. But at trial, the U.S. Probation Office sought 20-year sentences. Prosecutors can argue that terms are stiff because of federal mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed with guns, but it was Sutton's choice to throw the book at the agents -- charging them for assault with a dangerous weapon, obstructing justice, lying about the incident and willfully violating Aldrete-Davila's Fourth Amendment right to be free from illegal seizure -- as well attempted murder, for which they were acquitted. That's a long sheet for acts begun in the heat of pursuit.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., (no knee-jerk nativist) has asked for a Senate investigation. In a statement, she explained that the sentences seem "too extreme given the criminal nature of the defendant and his possession of large quantities of drugs, and given the fact that Mr. Aldrete-Davila had physically resisted at least one attempt by agents Ramos and Compean to bring him into custody. ... Yet, these men were given sentences that some individuals who are convicted of murder wouldn't receive."
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., wants President Bush to pardon the agents. The White House says that it can't act until a transcript is available, and that should be soon. Meanwhile, Bush ought to seriously consider commuting the agents' sentences, while making it clear that his administration will go after the jobs of agents who misbehave. If a congressional probe uncovers exculpatory information, Bush could issue a full pardon.
As public outrage bubbles, the White House has engaged in an offensive to defend this dubious prosecution. Some conservatives now are defending the prosecution -- when they must know there is no excuse for these long sentences. If Ramos and Compean had been running illegal immigrants across the border -- running a continuing criminal enterprise and risking the lives of fellow agents -- they'd be looking at shorter time.