3 Years Doesn't Fit the Crime in Miles Case

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Judges from the Golovinsky District Court have probably presided over quite a few puzzling cases in their careers. But the case of U.S. Pastor Phillip Miles must have seemed particularly strange to observers and the general public, if not to the judges themselves.

Two months ago, the 57-year-old pastor at the Christ Community Church in Conway, South Carolina, decided to bring a gift for a friend living in Perm. His idea for a present was 20 hunting rifle rounds.

What was he thinking?

After all, there is probably no country in the world that allows outgoing or incoming passengers to carry undeclared ammunition, whether for hunting rifles or other firearms.

The decision by the court on Monday to convict Miles of smuggling came as no surprise, but the fact that he was given such a severe sentence -- three years and two months -- is unfathomable. It is hard to believe that someone who is clearly not a serious criminal would be sent to prison for more than three years for bringing in a box of bullets. Individuals who have been found guilty of stealing large sums of money from state coffers cause much more harm to society than those bringing in undeclared goods, and they usually spend less time in jail or are even given suspended sentences.

Perhaps Miles was given such a harsh punishment to send a signal to other Western pastors that they are not welcome here, where the Russian Orthodox Church is jealously guarding its flock.

Or perhaps he received such a severe sentence to provoke him to ask for a presidential pardon, in which case President Vladimir Putin can score another high-profile PR victory. Putin has done this before, when he pardoned Edmund Pope, another U.S. citizen, who was convicted of the much more serious crime of espionage and given a far lengthier sentence.

Against the backdrop of the Miles case, it is telling to look at how the case of Yevgeny Adamov, the former Nuclear Power Minister, was handled. Just last week, Adamov was released from prison after the Moscow City Court ruled that he should serve a suspended sentence. Adamov in February was sentenced to five years in prison after being convicted of abuse of office and defrauding Russia and the United States out of millions of dollars.

We can only hope that Miles will be allowed to return home as quickly as Adamov was -- either through presidential pardon or after an appeal.

We also hope that the judges and the judicial system in this country, where more than 99 percent of criminal cases result in convictions, will one day be guided by the basic judicial principles of fairness and equity, under which the punishment fits the crime.