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August 20, 2007

Michael Vick takes a plea deal

How Appealing reports here, based on two news sources, that Michael Vick has agreed to a plea deal and will formally plead guilty to felony conspiracy next Monday.  Here's the latest CNN report on some sentencing and related issues:

Federal prosecutors had offered a deal recommending an 18- to 36-month prison sentence. Vick's attorneys were trying to reduce that to less than a year, two sources told CNN earlier on Monday.  It was not immediately clear whether Vick's attorneys have heard back Monday from National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell's office.  They wanted to clarify Vick's career options before entering into any deal with federal prosecutors, the sources said.

Some related Vick sentencing posts:

August 20, 2007 at 03:11 PM | Permalink

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Comments

Somehow, I think we all saw this coming.

I really hope that any eventual sentence or supervised release doesn't involve animals. That would be like making a child predator work in a daycare center.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 20, 2007 3:20:26 PM

Just say "child predator" and no one can argue it. It's a cheap ploy.

On the contrary, I'd say Vick could possibly work with animals. Did he have a pet dog that he treated well? Or did he know others who had pets and yet - surprise! - he didn't abuse them?

Cheap.

I don't know what the sentence should be and know little about the facts in this case, but the propaganda is the same as in all high profile cases that serve as moral panics. That is the only reason I argue it all.

Posted by: George | Aug 20, 2007 4:17:15 PM

Well based on all the horrible collateral punishments (loss of reputation and NFL career) based on Bush's principal of leniency based on Libby, Vick should get no time and only have to pay a fine.

Posted by: brucem | Aug 20, 2007 4:28:42 PM

Yes, Michael Vick is slime mold and a contemptible human being. What could you say that could be worse for an NFL player? He is a liar who operated a gambling enterprise. Could I ever learn to respect anyone who executed man’s best fried in such a inhumane way? The answer is NO! Could I ever trust that Michael Vick the liar/gambler wasn’t also a cheater? The answer is HELL NO!

Posted by: Ed Powell/Student | Aug 20, 2007 5:22:32 PM

Student
Yes, Michael Vick is slime mold and a contemptible human being. What could you say that could be worse for an NFL player? He is a liar who operated a gambling enterprise. Could I ever learn to respect anyone who executed man’s best fried in such a inhumane way? The answer is NO! Could I ever trust that Michael Vick the liar/gambler wasn’t also a cheater? The answer is HELL NO!

Posted by: Ed Powell/Student | Aug 20, 2007 5:23:28 PM

You can forget about Bush's principle of leniency as applied to Scooter Libby. He has applied that principle to no one else. When defense attorneys argue for leniency, citing precisely the reasons Bush gave for Libby, Bush's own Justice Department routinely oppose them. Libby's "get out of jail free" card works for only one player in life's Monopoly game: himself.

I do think that Vick's offence calls for some prison time, but the upper end quoted (36 months) would practically guarantee that he could never play again. No one his age makes a meaningful comeback after losing 3-4 years of his career. The 2007 season is already underway without him, and he hasn't yet served a day. Even at the lower end, he's looking at more than 1 year out of football, and that's before whatever sanction the league itself may impose.

Vick's other problem is that the QB is inevitably the most prominent "public face" of the team he plays for. If you're an NFL GM, how do you market a team with Vick as your centerpiece?

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Aug 20, 2007 5:31:41 PM

Quite frankly, I think Vick is worse than Scooter. Even though I don't really like Scooter, 1) his heart was in the right place; and 2) he did help people out in a low-key manner that he didn't have to regardless of their politics (as the sentencing letters showed). Vick is just a dog-killer.

If people want to use his punishment to help dogs, he should be ordered to pay restitution. A lot of it. He will always be a danger to our furry friends.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 20, 2007 7:28:11 PM

It will be very interesting to see precisely what facts Vick admits to next Monday in his plea hearing. As far as I can tell, Vick's plea doesn't require him to admit that he harmed any animals and there is no tangible evidence other than the testimony of his "friends" that he did. While the "executions" of the dogs are the most scandalous, from a PR point of view, part of the indictment and appears to be the primary element driving public opinion, it is essentially irrelevant to the charges he is pleading guilty to. According to the state prosecutor Poindexter at the time the 66 dogs were seized from Vick's property: "the dogs seized from Vick’s property appear to have received good care. He said only one required immediate veterinary care and that was because of a broken leg caused by a birth defect." (see http://network.bestfriends.org/stopbsl/news/14947.html) Apparently, he -- or his friends -- are capable of taking care of animals.

In other words, Vick is pleading guilty to running a dog fighting venture as well as transporting dogs in support of illegal activities (the fact that dog fighting is a federal matter strikes me as silly but that is a subject for another post). He may very well deny any involvement in executing dogs.

Would people feel different about Vick if in fact he simply funded and ran a dog fighting "venture" but otherwise took good care of the dogs? He would be just as guilty as a matter of law but I suspect he might be cut a little slack in the court of public opinion.

By the way, what is going to happen to the 66 dogs that Vick took good care of. The government is going to execute them. Nice. According to John Goodwin, deputy manager of animal-fighting issues for The Humane Society of the United States: the "66 dogs seized in the raid on Vick's house April 25 probably would be euthanized if it's determined they're fighting dogs, because they have a level of aggression that makes them dangerous pets." So let me get this straight: Vick is demonized for (allegedly) killing dogs that don't make good fighters and the Humane Society executes dogs that don't make good pets!?

By

Posted by: | Aug 20, 2007 8:11:24 PM

According to an unnamed general manager in this article Vick could easily make a return to the NFL in two years (assuming one for prison and one for NFL suspension... an outcome I would find reasonable).

"If he gets out in eight months and the league suspends him for one year, why wouldn't he be able to come back into the league?" one general manager said. "If it's two years that he hasn't played football, why wouldn't he play? He served his time. In America, if someone serves his time, are they allowed to come back with the freedom to work? Why is it different for a football player?"

What about his ability to lead a team as a quarterback? Would he have enough respect in the locker room?

"Have you been around these football players lately?" the general manager said. "You think that is going to hurt him from being a leader? I don't see why players would have an issue with it."

Exactly. Finally a voice of sanity. Too bad he had to say this under the cloak of anonymity.

Posted by: | Aug 20, 2007 8:20:55 PM

BruceM, what do you really think the odds are that the Probation Department will recommend no prison time for Vick? Must be pretty high if you would even think to compare his case to Libby's.

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Aug 20, 2007 11:32:14 PM

P.S., do you have some inside information? Is the President calling the Probation Department of Vick's behalf?

And aren't the guidelines similar enough?

Posted by: George | Aug 20, 2007 11:46:25 PM

Anon@ 8:20:55PM...

"'In America, if someone serves his time, are they allowed to come back with the freedom to work? Why is it different for a football player?'"

If a felony conviction doesn't bar him from meaningful employment completely - including his NFL career - then that by definition makes him different from almost everyone else who serves time for a felony.

'Unnamed General Manager' probably should stick to commenting about football. He obviously doesn't know anything about the collateral consequences of being a convicted felon.

Posted by: | Aug 21, 2007 9:48:50 AM

It may be true that the charges Vick is admitting do not actually involve cruelty to animals. But under Federal guidelines, the sentencing judge is required to consider uncharged conduct, which can lead to a sentence nearer the upper end of the range.

It would be exceedingly unwise for him to deny harming animals, if the evidence shows that he did. Such denials, if not believed by the judge, could lead to a higher sentence.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Aug 21, 2007 11:09:02 AM

The "evidence" that he harmed other animals is the testimony of the other codefendants -- there is no other evidence -- so it is a question of whether the judge believes Vick or the other guys (most of whom, I believe, already have criminal records). Unfortunately for Vick, burden of proof is not very high.

Is cruelty to animals a federal offense that could qualify as "uncharged conduct?" I don't think it is or that would have been part of the original indictment. Even the superseding indictment that everyone was talking about would not have added a "cruelty" charge because I don't think there is such a federal statute.

Posted by: Dr Bill | Aug 21, 2007 12:35:59 PM

I fully understand the collateral consequences of being a convicted felon, but unless the crime was related to the career (e.g. CPA who embezzles money), there is nothing to *legally* prevent Vick from playing football again. Since the General Manager is in the business of hiring football players, then I think his opinion about Vick's future employment is rather relevant.

Vick's future problem is not a legal one but a PR one. Football is entertainment and the NFL wants to protect its "image" as a business. Vick's actions are irrelevant to his abilities as a football player but the NFL may consider them relevant to their image. It's their call, of course, but I suspect we will see Vick in 2-3 years back in the NFL unless he just makes a total ass of himself in the meantime. (As an example, Jamal Lewis is a federal felon who spent 4 months in federal prison and returned to the Ravens when he got out and is currently with Cleveland I believe).

Posted by: Dr Bill | Aug 21, 2007 12:43:39 PM

Dr Bill -

"Since the General Manager is in the business of hiring football players, then I think his opinion about Vick's future employment is rather relevant."

My previous comment (9:48:50 a.m.) apparently was not well-written. I did not assert that the manager's opinion was not relevant to Vick's particular situation. My point was exactly the opposite - that the manager made a generalized statement about an offender's ability to work after he "serves his time," and then asked why it would be *different* for a football player. Not being effectively barred from employment is precisely what would make Vick's situation from the typical convicted felon that the manager apparently thinks has the ability to get right back to work. Your point is well-taken; it also (IMHO) supports mine.

You are correct, by the way, that Vick may not face any *legal* barrier to work, but that's splitting hairs because it's also the case for most convicted felons. That is, unless he wants to work at an airport, get a commercial driver's license, practice in a licensed profession (especially the medical ones), work with children, make enough money to live outside of subsidized housing (oh wait, can't live there either), or engage in any number of professions for which a felony conviction is grounds for denial of employment or its qualifications. Of course, Vick is in the NFL, and as far as I know there's no legal barrier to a felon having a contract with them. But it misses or avoids the point to assert that a legal bar to employment for a convicted felon (along the lines of some statutory prohibition for a particular profession) is the only "legal" barrier to his getting a job.

Which leads me to disagree with your distinction of the legal problems for the NFL and the PR problems. I think the legal issues *are* paramount for his future employer, but not because there's any statutory bar against a convicted felon playing professional sports. As you noted, negative publicity apparently didn't prevent another player's re-entry to the game (acknowledging that there may be significant differences of scale, given Vick's position relative to that of a less well-known player with a smaller salary), so while the PR problems are significant, if there's money to be made then the NFL may very well swallow its concerns about image. Heck, they could even play up a great 'redemption' story as prelude to Vick's return. But looming large is the question of who's going to insure the team and the NFL against the potential consequences of his future conduct.

By way of example, substitute for Vick in this story your neighbor's 14-year-old kid, who you've just learned has been spending his Saturdays in the woods nearby with his friends (if the allegations about Vick and his co-defendants are true) shocking local animals to death, hanging them by the neck to watch them die, and holding their heads under water until they drown, thrashing and panicking all the while. Would you describe that kid as a "violent" offender? Psychologically damaged? How about "depraved," even? (A loaded term to be sure, but do you think the US Attorney would hesitate to use it in this case?) Would you have doubts about that kid's character or his mental health? Would you, as part of any sentence or juvenile disposition, require counseling? Monitoring post-release? Would you allow him to work with children?

If you would characterize such an offender as violent or depraved, if you would attempt to correct his situation with counseling or restraint, if you would monitor his future behavior, or if you would limit his access to vulnerable populations afterward, then you would be acknowledging that he presents a future risk. If that risk manifests and he hurts someone down the road, then there's obvious liability for anyone who knew about his past and yet put him in a position to inflict that future harm - especially an employer.

The NFL now knows that they have an employee who is a violent offender and who apparently does not scruple at inflicting pain and death for profit, amusement, or both. So you're right - there's probably no barrier in the law to prevent Vick from returning to the NFL after conviction. But his future does present a *legal* problem for the insurance policies and employer liability of the NFL and any team that hires him down the road. And if they look past *that* and still hire him - consiously assuming the grave financial risk of doing so - then *that* would be what makes him different from other convicted felons. The unnamed manager's opinion of Vick's employability may be highly relevant to Vick's specific situation. My point was that he's obviously got a skewed view about the employment prospects of the non-NFL convicted felon who "serves his time" and tries to take up a semblance of normal life thereafter.

---

Oh, and as a P.S. on this manager's perspective, re-read the following posted by 8:20:55...

"What about his ability to lead a team as a quarterback? Would he have enough respect in the locker room?

'Have you been around these football players lately?' the general manager said. 'You think that is going to hurt him from being a leader? I don't see why players would have an issue with it.'"

One of two things is true: either Unnamed General Manager has no idea what he's talking about, or he's accurately characterized professional football players as a group that, in general, would not "have an issue" with following a guy who tortures animals for kicks, and our country therefore has a bunch of inhuman monsters being held up and 'role models' for our kids. Me? I'm sticking with my original assertion that Unnamed General Manager is too stupid to breathe without Post-It notes to remind him. Because if he's right, Michael Vick is the least of our problems.

Posted by: | Aug 21, 2007 2:34:03 PM

One of two things is true: either Unnamed General Manager has no idea what he's talking about, or he's accurately characterized professional football players as a group that, in general, would not "have an issue" with following a guy who tortures animals for kicks, and our country therefore has a bunch of inhuman monsters being held up and 'role models' for our kids. Me? I'm sticking with my original assertion that Unnamed General Manager is too stupid to breathe without Post-It notes to remind him. Because if he's right, Michael Vick is the least of our problems

In case you haven't noticed, not everyone feels that way about dogfighting.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/sullivan/20070609-9999-1s9sullivan.html

Lots of NFL players have had legal problems. Unnamed GM's point is that most players would probably not look more harshly on this than they do on lots of other off-field stuff that you hear about. Some probably don't see dogfighting as the worst thing in the world. Other probably view it as "off-field" stuff that doesn't concern them.

As for your point that the GM "got a skewed view about the employment prospects of the non-NFL convicted felon who "serves his time" and tries to take up a semblance of normal life thereafter," that's completely irrelevant because Vick isn't a "non-NFL convicted felon." He's a talented NFL quarterback, not some guy trying to get a job bagging groceries. If Vick wants to get a job outside of the NFL, he'll probably have some trouble. If he wants to go back to being a QB, the worst he'll get is probably a lower-paying contract with a few "character" provisions and a few more escape clauses for the team than the average contract.

Posted by: | Aug 21, 2007 3:19:29 PM

First, I am glad that this discussion was engaged.

Second, I am "Anon@ 8:20:55PM." Since this is my first time posting, I didn't identify myself in that post but "Dr Bill" and "Anon@ 8:20:55PM" are the same.

Third, and perhaps more importantly, I am a convicted felon myself, having recently completed a 3 month sentence for a white collar offense. It is this last qualification that motivates my interest in the subject because, having been on the defendant's side of a federal prosecution and having actually spent "quality" time with federal inmates, I have a perspective that is perhaps different than those who normally post on this forum. In fact, I think it would be impossible to ever view federal prosecutions and inmates the same again. I cannot help but have empathy for Michael Vick and what he is going through. This public "mob" mentality that is prepared to "lynch" Vick is very disturbing to me.

Having said that, I am quite in agreement with, and sympathetic towards, the problem of collateral consequences for the vast majority of convicted non-violent felons. In many cases, the collateral consequences far outweigh the prison time as a punishment. I can't tell you how many guys I talked to in prison who wanted to do things "right" when they got out but were anxious about what kind of opportunities would be available to them. Who would give them a chance?

As you state, these consequences are not "legal" but, due to the stigma associated with felons, are still real. In fact, they become a type of de-facto lifetime sentence. That is also why I appreciated the comments of this general manager who seemed to recognize that convicted felons who have served their "time" should be allowed to re-integrate into society as full members, not second-class citizens.

Also, as I quickly learned in prison, there is a vast cultural chasm between those who grew up on "the street" and mainstream society. I have no doubt that Michael Vick didn't really think that what he was doing was all that bad and he is in something of a state of shock right now. Since a large percentage of the NFL are players who also came from the same background, it is not surprising if they should wonder what the hoopla is all about. Clinton Portis got some bad press several months ago after candidly implying that this was not a big deal but I have a feeling he was speaking for a lot of NFL players, which is why the general manager indicated that Vick would have no problems leading a team again... most NFL players do NOT think like mainstream America. (Of course, this creates an interesting marketing dilemma for the NFL but that is a different story.)

I know next to nothing about dog-fighting and am equally appalled as anyone if it turns out that he not only ran a dog-fighting operation but brutally killed some of the dogs (an admission he has not made yet and is not technically required by the plea agreement... we will find out next Monday what facts he actually admits to). I do know however that he has become a poster child for organizations like PETA and the Humane Society who don't mind destroying the life of a young man in order to score political points for their agenda. It bothers me when a single high-profile individual is singled out for conduct that is unexceptional in his sub-culture and made an example of at an unbelievable personal cost. Surely there is a more humane way to make the point that dog-fighting is no longer acceptable without flushing Michael Vick's life down the toilet.

For better or worse, I am rooting for Michal Vick. I really pray that he views this, not as the end of his life, but a new beginning. I hope he gets an opportunity to play in the NFL again and that he can set an example of how to recover from failure and adversity.

Posted by: Dr Bill | Aug 21, 2007 4:46:38 PM

"In case you haven't noticed, not everyone feels that way about dogfighting."

You mischaracterize my comments. Nowhere in either previous comment did I discuss the relative severity of "dogfighting" when compared to other crimes. Your reply up to the last paragraph completely ignores the point I was making in the original post and reply to Dr Bill, and your snark about folks probably not "see[ing] dogfighting as the worst thing in the world" has nothing to do with whether or not the violent character of an offender who apparently engaged in animal torture (which is completely distinct from "dogfighting," though some SPCA types would fight me on that) would pose future legal problems for his employer in a respondeat superior context. The specific offense involved isn't even relevant to my comments about collateral consequences beyond the fact that (and feel free to disagree here) we'd generally characterize animal torture as a violent act. Not the arranging and supervision of the fights, mind you; by "violent act," I'm referring only to the ways in which the 'underperformers' apparently were put down. (And yes, I eat meat, and am aware of what a sledgehammer's for in that context, so feel free to accuse me of hypocrisy because I engage in 'indrect violence through support of the meat industry' or some such - you'll still be dodging the point of my original comment.)

However, if you really meant to take issue only with my concerns about the players' characters as represented in the manager's comment, then reasonable minds can differ. It still mischaracterizes my comments to try and replace "torture" with "dogfighting," but if you're of the opinion that animal torture doesn't present a serious character flaw and that it's just something 'off-field' that shouldn't trouble his colleagues (incidentally, if your co-worker tortures and electrocutes cats for kicks on his weekends, you consider that 'out-of-office' and don't worry about being around him? Wow.), then we'll just have to disagree about what that says about the characters of the players involved (which again would be assuming the manager knows what he's talking about - and I hope he doesn't).

Your last paragraph, however, is on point. I disagree with you about the relevance of the manager's position. His skewed view is *completely* relevant when you actually read my comment. My point was NOT about Vick's specific situation (as I explained in reply to Dr Bill), and I'm not sure why you felt a need to misrepresent it.

The manager's assertion about a convicted felon's job prospects is skewed because he apparently views Vick's potential NFL re-entry as no different from any other convicted felon's ability to find employment - which it most certainly is. Your assertion that Vick is different because he's a star QB for the NFL is precisely my point: the manager extrapolates from his apparent expectation (hope?) that the NFL would accept Vick back into its ranks and grafts his perception of that acceptance onto what a felon who "serves his time" can expect. And *that* is why I asserted that he has no clue about the real consequences of felony conviction for the rest of the populace: he seems to assert that Vick would be somehow suffer atypical or more punitive consequences than others who've served their time if he couldn't just walk out of a prison and back onto the training field. My point is that if he were treated like other convicted felons (having "served his time"), Vick’s employment prospects post-conviction would be nil. And *that* is why the manager’s perception is skewed.

Posted by: | Aug 21, 2007 4:50:09 PM

By the way (this is anon, again) - upon re-reading, I shouldn't have stooped to "too stupid to breathe without Post-It notes to remind him." "Ignorant of the real consequences of being a convicted felon" the manager may be, but I probably degraded the conversation with that line. If that's what earned me a snark in return, in retrospect I think I probably deserved it. I maintain that the manager's comments demonstrate a sadly widespread ignorance of the problems faced by former offenders, and that was the sole point of my original post, but my frustration with that ignorance doesn't justify cheap shots at the guy. My apologies to the forum for that.

Posted by: | Aug 21, 2007 5:01:53 PM

You bring up an interesting point about Vick's crime being one of "violence." In order to qualify for a prison camp (which would normally be the case for a first time offender with a sentence of less than 10 years), the inmate cannot have committed a crime of "violence."

Is the crime Vick is pleading to considered a crime of violence under BOP's prison designation policies? Is it possible that Vick may have to go to a low or, God forbid, a medium security prison for his short sentence?

Also, I do accept your point about the general manager's understanding about the reality for most convicted felons. The problem is that he, as with most citizens, is appealing to an ideal he actually thinks exists (i.e. after a person does their time, then life immediately goes back to normal) when in fact it is far from reality. In many cases, the punishment goes on and on and one.... Nonetheless, his appeal is I believe a legitimate one -- Michael Vick should be allowed to return.

My sense is that most citizens are totally clueless on the issue of collateral consequences and I would hope that if they knew the truth, they would demand reform. Alas, I think I hope for too much.

Posted by: Dr Bill | Aug 21, 2007 5:05:37 PM

The manager's assertion about a convicted felon's job prospects is skewed because he apparently views Vick's potential NFL re-entry as no different from any other convicted felon's ability to find employment - which it most certainly is. Your assertion that Vick is different because he's a star QB for the NFL is precisely my point: the manager extrapolates from his apparent expectation (hope?) that the NFL would accept Vick back into its ranks and grafts his perception of that acceptance onto what a felon who "serves his time" can expect. And *that* is why I asserted that he has no clue about the real consequences of felony conviction for the rest of the populace: he seems to assert that Vick would be somehow suffer atypical or more punitive consequences than others who've served their time if he couldn't just walk out of a prison and back onto the training field. My point is that if he were treated like other convicted felons (having "served his time"), Vick’s employment prospects post-conviction would be nil. And *that* is why the manager’s perception is skewed.

Fair enough. My view is that the GM is probably right about Vick's prospects of re-entering the NFL, but wrong to say that the reason his prospects are good is that "[i]n America, if someone serves his time, [he is] allowed to come back with the freedom to work." Rather, the reason is that Vick is a talented player, the NFL is a business, and as long as the benefits of having Vick on the roster are enough to offset the costs. Vick's contract could probably be structured to make his reentry profitable for all concerned.

As for the distinction between "dogfighting" and "animal torture," yes, I didn't see your comment as making that distinction.

Posted by: | Aug 21, 2007 5:50:19 PM

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