Time Served & Cheerio

Apparently the government is disappointed that Jose Padilla was sentenced to 17 years rather than life in prison for his terrorism conspiracy conviction. (See NY Times story here.) Fair enough. But part of the disappointment can only be described as mystifying. The government objected to the judge's crediting Padilla for time served for his time in military custody. I understand the form of the objection: During that time, Padilla was not being held in connection with any criminal charge, and so that custody should not have been deemed related to the criminal conviction. But the substance of the objection is preposterous.

If Padilla had been held by a foreign power, that would be one thing; but he had no control over which division of the U.S. federal executive held him. Likewise, if Padilla's confinement had been un-prison-like, something closer to house arrest, that too might not qualify as time served. But Padilla was held in isolation for long periods of time and subject to repeated interrogation. He was arguably serving time under worse conditions than he will face during (the balance of) his sentence. Finally, it's worth noting that persons convicted of crimes are routinely given credit for time served awaiting trial, even though pre-trial detainees are not subject to punishment as such. Yet in that context, the law wisely looks past the label and recognizes that time in prison (or jail) is time in prison (or jail), full stop. The judge made the right call here.

And now another brief break from blogging. I'm taking a short trip to London to give a lecture at the Faculty of Laws, University College London. The lecture (advertised here) has the catchy title The Morality of Prophylactic Legislation (with Special Reference to Speed Limits, Assisted Suicide, Torture, and Military Detention). (The UCL website lists a slightly different, and equally "catchy," title for my lecture.) I'll report back on the lecture and the Q&A soon.

Posted by Mike Dorf