Schwarzenegger Beats the Rap for “Repugnant” Sentence Commutation as Governor

Monday, September 10, 2012
Arnold Schwarzenegger

While acknowledging that former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last-minute sentence reduction for the son of a political ally was “repugnant to the bulk of the citizenry of this state,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd Connelly said Friday that it wasn’t illegal.

Esteban Núñez, the son of former Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, had pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with a deadly weapon in 2008 after participating with others in an attack that resulted in the stabbing death of 22-year-old Luis Santos. According to the Los Angeles Times, the younger Núñez told friends that his politically-connected father would get him off.

Schwarzenegger reduced Núñez’ sentence from 16 years to 7 and he will be eligible for release in 2017. After his decision, Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying in response to allegations that he had shown favoritism, “I mean, of course you help a friend.” The ex-governor said Núñez’ sentence had been too harsh because he didn’t appear to have delivered the fatal blow.

The parents of Luis Santos were outraged at the commutation, and San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis filed suit to have it overturned. She cited the 2008 Marsy’s Law that required the governor to notify the district attorney in the crime jurisdiction 10 days before granting clemency. Schwarzenegger didn’t do that. The DA also argued that Schwarzenegger was obligated to contact the parents of the victim before commuting Núñez’ sentence.

Judge Connelly said Schwarzenegger’s action was “an abuse of discretion” and outside “the normal circle of fundamental justice,” but ruled that the governor’s pardon powers trumped Marsy’s Law. Connelly said the law applied to pardons, but not commutations, and that the two were “as different as a horse and an elephant.” The judge also said the governor did not have to notify family members as he had done in other commutations.

Luis Santos’ mother, Kathy Santos, told the Associated Press outside the courtroom that, “The attorney general's office fought for corruption, and they won. . . . Where's the justice for our son? He was murdered. Two conniving politicians got away with it.”

Dumanis said the judge's decision will be appealed.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Judge Says Schwarzenegger Didn't Violate Law in Commuting Sentence for Ally's Son (by Juliet Williams, Associated Press)

Judge: Schwarzenegger Within Law in Commuting Núñez Son's Sentence (by Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times)

Judge Lets Schwarzenegger’s Commutation of Núñez Son Stand (by Andy Furillo, Sacramento Bee)

The Núñez-Schwarzenegger Legacy (by Katy Grimes, CalWatchdog)

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