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April 20, 2010

"Did Michael Douglas' Son Get Celeb Treatment With Reduced Sentence?"

The title of this post is the headline of this hard-hitting report from the folks who are not afraid to ask the tough questions at E! Online.  Here's more:

Sure, having a movie star father might have contributed to getting Cameron Douglas into this legal mess.  But it also seems to have helped get him out of it.

Michael Douglas' son was sentenced to five years in prison today, just half of what is otherwise (like, for offenders without famous relatives) a minimum — yes, minimum — 10-year term.  It's unclear why at this point, but earlier today all parties agreed, on the record, that Douglas was not bound by mandatory minimums.

U.S. District Judge Richard Berman said the sentence was the 31-year-old's "last chance to make it," and the decision came down after papa Michael, gramps Kirk Douglas and stepmom Catherine Zeta-Jones each penned personal letters to the court asking for leniency. Guess it worked!

So, dear knowledgeable readers, what say you in response to the question posed by the folks at E!?

Some related posts:

April 20, 2010 at 07:08 PM | Permalink

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Comments

The defendant was probably "safety valve" eligible, which allows the court to sentence someone below the mandatory minimum, if certain conditions are met. It’s available to all, rich or poor. Frankly, I think this is journalism at its worst. It provides none of the relevant facts and then invites its readers to speculate about something that none of them likely know anything about.

Posted by: FPD | Apr 20, 2010 7:54:13 PM

FPD you're absolutely right. This article is just a headline attention grabber. I'm sure 'safety valve' was the case here.

Posted by: prettyby7 | Apr 20, 2010 8:39:56 PM

I am so sick of celebs getting shorter sentences because they have money! Then the justice system wonders why no one has respect for it anymore. Yes it is true that no one knows the whole basis of the case, but this happens tooo often. They have been several cases that warrant a safety valve, but so often it does not happen. Ask some of the first time nonviolent offenders. Yeah right, JUSTICE SYSTEM. INJUSTICE SYSTEM!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Meka | Apr 20, 2010 9:26:11 PM

For the windbagitis of FPD and prettyby (in your dreams, BTW), what didn't happen in Cameron Douglas' case was the inflation of street value, or enhancement of the grams, to inch a sentence up into the stratosphere. Beyond peradventure, these prosecutors found a way to shorten the kid's sentence because of his celebrity parents. As Meka justifiably comments, safety valves don't always happen. There are way too many first time offenders (unlike the two priors (de minimus) in Cameron's case) who are serving 10 year-MANDATORY minimums in federal prison "camps" (they're camps, because these people, put away for a minimum of 10 years, have no violence in their backgrounds).

p.s. who was the politician/Congressman who proposed these mandatory minimums? what was he thinking--ensconced on Capital Hill before the public finally got wise to the ways of politicos?

Posted by: FluffyRoss | Apr 21, 2010 7:35:51 AM

Per TalkLeft, Douglas cooperated with prosecutors and got a substantial assistance motion, thus the ability to get under the mandatory minimum. 1/2 off is about what we see in cases where the Government files such motions.

Posted by: Another AFPD | Apr 21, 2010 8:05:35 AM

"Cooperation" is ambiguously applied...depending on the prosecutor's willingness. Cameron is a heroin addict. How in the world would he have been able to "cooperate" meaningfully? They gave him a pass. He had two priors. Please. Further, cooperation cuts are more often effected 1/2 way into an inmate's sentence (one that may have been a 10-year mandatory), not beforehand. Therein you have the inequitable application of federal criminal sentencing.

Posted by: FluffyRoss | Apr 21, 2010 8:33:22 AM

. . . and the Guidelines were created to eliminate unwarranted disparity. What would Ted and Strom think about how their baby now?

Posted by: alan chaset | Apr 21, 2010 10:00:25 AM

Alan --

They'd think he died five years ago with Booker. And they'd be right.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 21, 2010 10:34:50 AM

Why does the fact that he is a heroin addict mean he couldn't cooperate. First off, he has presumably detoxed since being in jail/pretrial, monitored release. Secondly, even if he was actively using, being an addict is not the same as having a lobotomy. You can still provide useful information. In fact, if I am looking for heroin suppliers, I would think that "heroin addicts" actually would be a class of folks with whom I'd be quite interested in speaking.

I don't really know how I feel in the end about this case or the sentence, but this point just struck me as grasping and illogical.

Posted by: Anon | Apr 21, 2010 12:12:27 PM

For those who think only the rich, famous and well-connected get these kinds of sentencing deals, I saw a poor, black 19 year old kid get a similar deal here in Lexington, Ky. (E.D.Ky.) before Senior Judge Forrester about 2 years ago. Defendant had a state court crack conviction at 18, and was placed in the Circuit [Drug] Court's intensive drug diversion program. This program includes the defendant consenting to the warrantless search of his residence by probation officers. During a search, a probation officer found 68 grams of crack hidden in defendant's hall closet, which got him a Federal criminal indictment. For 50 grams or more, the mandatory minimum is 10 years, with a maximum possible sentence of life. Because this defendant had a prior felony drug conviction, his mandatory minimum doubled to 20 years! The only way below that mandatory minimum was for the defendant to cooperate and the Government to make a motion for a downward departure, based upon his "cooperation" (read snitching).
At sentencing, the Government moved for a downward departure and asked for a 12 year sentence. Defense counsel argued for an 8 year sentence with a recommendation for the B.O.P.'s RDAP drug treatment program. Judge Forrester (who has been on the bench more than 30 years) sentenced as defense counsel requested. With a year off for successfully completing RDAP and earning about a year of "good conduct" time, this young man many be home at age 25, after serving about 6 years in Federal prison. He will still be young enough to turn his life around and live a productive life in society. One problem with the 10 and 20 year sentences (and longer) is that after spedning that much time in prison, it is virtually impossible for a defendant to be successfully reintegrated into society; he is virtually unemployable except in the most menial of jobs. This young man also had a 2 year old son, who will be 8 upon his father's release from prison. The single best predictor of whether a young man will end up in prison is whether his own father ever served time in prison. Between the ages of 18 and 30, there are more young black men in America in jail or prison than there are in college!

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Apr 21, 2010 2:36:59 PM

There was probably safety valve and possibly a 5k motion by the government. And, since when is 60 months a lenient sentence for a person who has serious drug use issues, regardless of who his father happens to be? I don't think Judge Berman is the type to be influenced by celebrity parents. frankly, if there was a 5k motion and he got 60 months, he got too much time and not enough credit.

Asst. Fed. Defender

Posted by: sps | Apr 21, 2010 2:42:15 PM

Great. Today yet another American family must consider itself lucky a loved one convicted of a non-violent crime drew a "lenient" sentence of "only" five years in prison.

Posted by: John K | Apr 21, 2010 3:55:10 PM

Only Bill, a former AUSA, would think that the Guidelines "died" because 8.4% more of defendants obtain the benefit of a Booker reduction.

According to the FY 09 data, Table N: 15.9% of defendants were sentenced below the GL range without a govt-sponsored departure.

According to the FY 03 (the last full FY before Blakely), Table 26A: 7.5% of defendants received non-govt-sponsored downward departures.

Let's assume that Booker never happened and 7.5% of defendants continued to receive non-govt-sponsored downward departures. (I make this assumption because many post-Booker variances have been classified as "variances" even though they could and would have been "departures" pre-Booker. In order to account for the under-utilized nature of "departure" clasification post-Booker, I assume it's the same as FY 03 departure rates). That means that Booker was the sole cause for 8.4% of downward variances.

If that's what one would classify as a death of the Guidelines, then we have a starkly different view of death.

Posted by: DEJ | Apr 21, 2010 7:27:16 PM

DEJ --

I think you missed the point of Alan Chaset's question.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 22, 2010 9:26:59 AM

DEJ --

"Only Bill, a former AUSA, would think that the Guidelines 'died' because 8.4% more of defendants obtain the benefit of a Booker reduction."

When you're already on life support, as the Guidelines were with 40% of sentences being departures pre-Booker, another 8% is enough to push you over the brink. With rare exceptions, judges can now do anything they want. That means the Guidelines, in the sense of being serious barriers to willfulness and randomness, are dead.

Or perhaps I should take a less numerical approach and say that only a defense lawyer would argue, as reported in one of Doug's more recent entries, that a guy who gets off watching a two year old scream in pain and misery while being raped should get a more lenient sentence because "he didn't flee."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 22, 2010 9:43:26 AM

Children of celebrities aren't the only people getting good deals. Here in Las Vegas the Feds spent a ton of money in a RICO investigation to take down the Bloods street gang. Many of them were caught on survellance selling crack cocaine. Two of them recently got five years and one of them is being recommended into the same RDAP program.

http://www.lvrj.com/news/judge-rejects-street-gang-plea-deals-89495337.html

Las Vegas Defense Attorney

Posted by: Def. Atty | Apr 22, 2010 11:34:24 AM

"When you're already on life support, as the Guidelines were with 40% of sentences being departures pre-Booker, another 8% is enough to push you over the brink."

When the government recommends a departure pursuant to a Guideline provision, that's hardly putting the Guidelines on "life support."

"only a defense lawyer would argue ... that a guy who gets off watching a two year old scream in pain and misery while being raped should get a more lenient sentence because 'he didn't flee.'"

Classic Bill Ottis bait-and-switch. I show you data that the Guideline are, in fact, far from dead. And you come back with something entirely irrelavant to that point, discussing an entirely different subject, dealing with an entirely different post on this blog.

Posted by: DEJ | Apr 22, 2010 12:16:40 PM

DEJ --

"I show you data that the Guideline are, in fact, far from dead."

You showed data, alright, and what they demonstrate that the Guidelines ARE dead; you simply refuse to admit it and proclaim yourself correct via ipse dixit. What the data show, specifically, is that departures have now, with a nudge from Booker, gone to the point where a defendant is just about as likely to get a non-guidelines as a guidelines sentence. And that is D-E-A-D. As Justice Stevens said in his dissent in the remedial portion of Booker, the whole point of the SRA was to impose significant barriers to discretionary sentencing. Now those barriers are gone, and the very data you produce confirm their absence.

I don't blame you for wanting to avoid discussion of defense counsel's preposterous argument that his client should get leniency because he showed up. But your wanting to avoid it has nothing to do with me.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 22, 2010 6:20:02 PM

"a defendant is just about as likely to get a non-guidelines as a guidelines sentence."

When a Guideline-approved departure is given, it is not a non-guideline sentence. It is a sentence within the scheme envisioned by the Guidelines. It is allowing the Guidelines to operate as they were intended to under the SRA. The same can't be said about variances, of course, but Guideline-approved departures are an entirely different story.

"the whole point of the SRA was to impose significant barriers to discretionary sentencing."

And they certainly still do. Even under your view of non-Guideline sentences (which is flawed), half of all such sentences are government sponsored (25.3% of all sentences in FY 2009). If you have to get the government to agree half the time before a non-Guideline sentence is given, it certainly acts as a barrier.

"your wanting to avoid it has nothing to do with me."

It's not that I want to avoid it. It's that it has nothing to do with the subject of our discussion. It's not germane and completely off-topic to whether Booker made the guidelines dead. If I want to "avoid" anything, it's irrelevant arguments to the issue we are debating.

Posted by: DEJ | Apr 22, 2010 10:20:10 PM

DEJ --

1. Your first point is correct to this extent: I should have said "outside the range sentence" rather than "non-guideline sentence." But with that correction, the point stands. Booker was the straw that broke the back of the already pretty broken down camel. You do not and could not dispute the central fact here, namely that now, in the wake of Booker, a defendant has about the same chance of getting a sentence outside the range as set forth by the probabion office as getting a sentence inside that range. Before Booker, sentences within the range were given 60% of the time. Pretty darn lame, but not dead.

2. The fact that the government sponsors half of all downward departures (or variances, I don't really care about the nomenclature) is irrelevant. First, that has not changed much at all from pre- to post-Booker; and second, sentences are imposed by the court, not the prosecutor. What part of the law says a court must grant a departure to the government seeks?

3. "It's not that I want to avoid it."

Good. Then stop avoiding it. It is true that it was not part of the discussion whether Booker killed the guidelines, but THAT ITSELF, a subject about which you (and I) have written plenty on this thread, is a good bit removed from what the thread started off being about, namely, whether Mr. Douglas got "celeb treatment."

What gets discussed in a given thread often stretches far afield from where things started, and it is fair, and not infrequent, for one commenter to ask another whether his approach to Question A on the current thread is consistent with his rather different approach to Question B on some thread last week.

It would take you precious little space and time to say either, "It's perfectly sensible for a defense lawyer to argue that his client should get leniency because he showed up rather than absconding," or "Defense counsel's argument is an embarrassment; a defendant's obeying his legal obligation to appear is to be taken for granted." So why not just pick one?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Apr 22, 2010 11:28:45 PM

"So why not just pick one?"

Because my point in responding to this thread was to reply to your unsupportable and incorrect statement that the Guidelines are dead.

Posted by: DEJ | Apr 23, 2010 1:38:54 AM

had to laugh when i read this!

"DEJ --

"Only Bill, a former AUSA, would think that the Guidelines 'died' because 8.4% more of defendants obtain the benefit of a Booker reduction."

When you're already on life support, as the Guidelines were with 40% of sentences being departures pre-Booker, another 8% is enough to push you over the brink. With rare exceptions, judges can now do anything they want. That means the Guidelines, in the sense of being serious barriers to willfulness and randomness, are dead.

Or perhaps I should take a less numerical approach and say that only a defense lawyer would argue, as reported in one of Doug's more recent entries, that a guy who gets off watching a two year old scream in pain and misery while being raped should get a more lenient sentence because "he didn't flee."

your so worried about this when your missing the big picture the entire american court sytem is DEAD! under our constitution all criminal trials are to be done with a JURY of your peers! when in fact in the last 30 -40 yers the number of criminal cases that actualy get to a LEGAL CONSTITUTIONAL JURY are less than 10%


sorry but if less than 10% of your boty worked it would be considered DEAD!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 23, 2010 12:14:10 PM

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