Calls grow for Biden to pardon Navy Lt. Alkonis currently imprisoned in Japan

 January 2, 2024

President Joe Biden is facing mounting pressure to grant clemency to U.S. Navy Lt. Ridge Alkonis, who is currently serving time in a California prison following a conviction and three-year sentence in Japan that stemmed from a fatal car accident in 2021, the Washington Examiner reported.

The calls for Biden to pardon Alkonis are based on concerns that the sailor did not receive proper due process in the Japanese legal system, that the punishment doled out by that system was disproportionate to the non-crime that occurred, and that he has already made penance for the accidental deaths of two Japanese civilians via time already served and settlements paid out to the grieving families.

The case of Navy Lt. Alkonis

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board has led the charge in urging President Biden to issue a pardon for Lt. Alkonis, who began serving his three-year sentence in Japan last summer but was transferred to a prison in California in December to serve out the remainder of that sentence.

That sentence followed a guilty plea from Alkonis to a negligent driving charge that stemmed from the incident in 2021 while deployed in Japan when, while driving back from a day trip to hike Mt. Fuji with his family, Alkonis briefly lost consciousness and crashed into several parked cars in front of a restaurant, killing two innocent bystanders.

Notably, the sailor had a clean criminal record and no alcohol or drugs were found in his system. Instead, he attributed the horrible tragedy to suffering the ill effects of what is known as "acute mountain sickness" brought on by the rapid change in altitude after returning to sea level from the day trip up the mountain -- a claim that has been debated by some and was not accepted by the Japanese courts.

Nevertheless, Alkonis has reportedly tried to make things right by paying the families of the victims more than $1.65 million in compensation, only part of which was covered by insurance while that majority was loaned to him by his parents, who took out a second mortgage on their home, along with other members of his family and from friends and supporters.

Biden admin appears worried about upsetting Japan

The Journal op-ed noted that standard practice following the fatal 2021 incident would have been for Japanese authorities to swiftly hand the U.S. service member over to U.S. authorities, but Japan instead held Lt. Alkonis in jail for nearly a month following his arrest, reportedly questioned him without an attorney present, and was otherwise deprived of the due process that all Americans are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

"Mr. Biden could pardon Lt. Alkonis or commute his sentence. But the Administration appears worried this would upset Tokyo," the op-ed stated. "The Administration has already shown deference to Japan by allowing Lt. Alkonis to serve nearly 18 months in prison, where by all accounts he has behaved as a model inmate. That hard time appears to exceed U.S. federal sentencing guidelines for an equivalent offense from a first-time offender."

The outlet went on to note that the "stakes are larger than Lt. Alkonis and his family" in this case and referenced congressional efforts to force the Defense Department to review and update all agreements with foreign host nations with respect to legal protections for U.S. service members overseas, and surmised, "A presidential dispensation for Lt. Alkonis would be a useful message to sailors and airmen abroad pondering whether they are living one lapse away from ruin."

Rep. Walz urges Biden and DOJ to pardon Lt. Alkonis and "release him today"

The Examiner reported that one prominent voice calling for President Biden to pardon Lt. Alkonis is Rep. Michael Walz (R-FL), a former U.S. Army Green Beret soldier, who raised the issue of the unjustly imprisoned sailor during an interview on Fox News' "Sunday Morning Futures" with guest host and former congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).

"This was a tragedy over in Japan, but it was an accident," Waltz said of the incident that "exposed" how U.S. service members are "incredibly vulnerable when they are stationed overseas."

"Yes, he was in Japanese prison, and yes, they are a wonderful and great ally, but he was denied legal counsel. He was denied an interpreter. He was held in solitary confinement. He was treated in the worst of ways," the Florida congressman continued. "I am glad to finally see him home, but the fact that he is now being held in a U.S. prison because of a Japanese conviction on an accident, after how he was treated, is unconscionable to me."

"I'm calling on President Biden, I'm calling on the Department of Justice -- release him today. They have the authority to do so. Let this brave hero go home to his family and exercise the authority that you have," Walz added. "This shouldn't come down to pressure from Congress. This is just doing the right thing as leaders, as Americans, and taking care of our troops, taking care of our veterans. Let this man go home."

Guest host Chaffetz agreed that Alkonis deserved an immediate pardon from the president and opined that "it seems as if the administration is much more concerned about Japan's feelings on this than they are about taking care of a U.S. service member."

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