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April 13, 2008

Creative sentencing for T.I. creates concerns

As detailed in this Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, the creative sentence engineered for the rapper T.I. is creating a stir.  Here is the start of the article:

Both were felons caught with guns. Popular rapper T.I. was sentenced to a year and a day in prison after he pleaded guilty to possessing three machine guns and two silencers, all bought from an undercover federal agent and just a fraction of all the weapons taken from his house and car that day.

In comparison, James Harold Ingram, an unknown, got two years in prison when federal agents, investigating reports he had a moonshine operation, arrested him with four rifles and marijuana he had planned to sell.

T.I., whose legal name is Clifford Harris Jr., had something to offer beyond his cooperation and admission of guilt: his fame, his name and his potential influence over kids who might think guns and violence are cool. Ingram had nothing.

While some have suggested T.I.'s unusual deferred sentence is lenient, U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said it was negotiated because Harris and his attorneys offered a plan to prevent crime. His prison sentence of one year and a day begins only after he has spent at least 1,000 hours preaching the message that violence and guns are bad. With earned time off, his prison stint could be cut to just over 10 months.  But if he fails to meet conditions, he could be sent for prison for almost six years.

"It's not ... because he's a star he gets a lower sentence," Nahmias said.  "Being a star isn't a reason to be targeted or a reason for a lower sentence. If you help convict others, you get a lower sentence. What he proposed was to go out and help prevent crime.  If he's able to prevent a crime, that's something you should get a reduced sentence for."

It's his star quality that makes the plan workable, legal experts say.  "He got it because he's a celebrity and has a bigger impact and is able to offer more to offset the sentence," said defense attorney Michael Trost, a former prosecutor.  "Do I think he got it just because he's a celebrity? No."

April 13, 2008 at 12:52 AM | Permalink


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Interesting article here on Lawrence Tynes's (who is a Super Bowl winning kicker) brother, who's serving a 27-year sentence for drugs. It has some good anecdotal information on sentencing, collateral effects, plea bargaining/the "trial penalty," snitches, etc., all in a very readable format.


As far as I can tell, the reporter manages to give a good description of the facts while resisting whatever biases he has about the justice system... which seems to me to be a rare occurrence.

Posted by: | Apr 13, 2008 1:07:05 AM


Clifford "T.I." Harris had a potential trial defense and millions in the bank to perhaps be the latest celebrity found "not guilty by reason of wealth & fame." Far from deserving blame the federal prosecutors in charge of this case should be applauded for a very creative win-win sentence. This sentence guarantees not only a conviction but a real chance of helping kids not making the same sort of boneheaded mistakes that got T.I. in to the position he now finds himself.

I can recall diving home from a day in the office when the news of the deal broke. I was clicking through the local stations. Stopping for moment on a local hip-hop station I was stunned by the news. I was also impressed by the immediate impact many callers to the station were reporting. If this agreement causes just one kid to decide not to pick up a gun and go play shoot 'em up this will have been a huge victory; I suspect it will be more than one kid who makes that choice.

IMHO, this was a great, great arrangement between the parties.

Posted by: karl | Apr 13, 2008 10:03:20 AM

Life isn't fair. That's the takeaway here. Rest assured, though, if this rapper screws up again, he's toast.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 13, 2008 6:13:14 PM

Right, federalist. I'm sure that if only you'd known that you could get away with having lots of guns, you would have chosen to become a successful rapper instead of whatever it is you're doing now.

It seems unfortunate when consequentialist concerns completely trump retributive concerns. Lots of defendants are in a position to influence others, and they often attempt to buy their way out of punishment. I'm reminded of the article Prof. Berman posted a while back where a rich guy was "sentenced" to organizing and attending black tie fundraisers.

On the other hand, I'm sometimes a fan of punishing people really harshly to make examples of them for consequentialist reasons. Perhaps that reasoning should cut the other way on occasion in cases like this.

Posted by: | Apr 14, 2008 12:21:19 AM

I don't think that response is at all warranted. It isn't fair in the cosmic sense that this guy got to trade his celebrity for a lesser sentence. Why is that a bad thing to point out?

Posted by: federalist | Apr 14, 2008 10:05:40 AM

Why does justice have a price tag on it? Why do the less fortunate continue to suffer. A family member of mine is awaiting sentencing in Federal court for pawning a old broken gun for twenty dallors and is facing a considerable amount of time. TI on the other hand gets a slap on the wrist for several semi-automatic weapons. I have study the federal guidelines for possession of firearms by convicted felones and its doesn't add up. I am not a hater, congrads for TI. He's my favorite rap artist. I can sympathize. It upsets me to see how money trumps human life and dignity.

Posted by: Tammy | Nov 27, 2008 10:43:24 PM

i think that it is wonderful that T.I. can use his name power and influence children to do some thing posative with their lives. Especially for the black community...because children and teenagers all look up to rappers, because they see that they made it out of the 'hood". The kids want to immulate the same process so one day they to can make it out...now they will see that there is more than one way to be successful and by choosing violence by all means there is only outcome, which is death and jail time. children have to much to offer the world and T.I. will enforce this way of thinking to the community by his sentenceing of 1,000 hours of community service..

Posted by: Gabby J. | Jan 26, 2009 1:34:17 PM

I think T.I will learn from his mistake

Posted by: david | Jan 27, 2009 10:49:24 AM

The positive ripple effect that is created thru TI's creative sentencing (albeit made available exclusively due to his stardom) gives back to the community leaps and bounds. There is no denying his ability, to touch and influence others supersedes any punitive lengthy sentencing, which I'm sure we can all admit only breeds additional anti-social behavior in our community, more times than not, ironically, in the name of "public safety.
I am extremely impressed with the courts decision to do something beneficial, as well as, "creative" given this circumstance. Well done!

Posted by: Stephanie Bell | Mar 26, 2009 2:16:52 AM

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