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May 20, 2010

Would Jean Valjean get a departure or variance in the federal sentencing system?

Les mis The question in the title of this post with the reference to the fictional thief made famous in Victor Hugo’s classic Les Miserables is inspired by this local news story from the heartland.  The piece is headlined "Hoosier says robbery was to help pay for wife's cancer treatment," and here are the basic details:

Sentencing will be in September for an Indiana man who federal authorities say helped rob a southern Illinois bank at Christmastime because he needed the loot to pay for his wife's cancer treatment.

Sixty-one-year-old Daniel Ravellette of Vincennes, Ind., pleaded guilty Tuesday in East St. Louis to aggravated bank robbery and a weapons count.  Authorities say Ravellette and another masked suspect robbed a Regions Bank in Lebanon last Dec. 19, when Ravellette pointed the guns at tellers and threatened them. Ravellette later fired several shots at police before he was taken into custody with two other suspects.

Authorities have said Ravellette told investigators he masterminded the holdup because his wife has cancer and he needed money.

This additional local story indicates that the other two suspects also have tales of woe to explain their criminal behavior:

Ravelette's two accomplices said they were unemployed and needed money to buy Christmas presents for their kids. Donald C. Long, 31, of Vincennes, and Zacharay E. Richey, 23, of Lawrenceville, Ill., are charged in connection with the bank robbery. They are in custody pending trial. Ravelette and another male entered the bank at 11:59 a.m., one minute before closing, Dec. 19. They wore blue skeleton masks and black gloves and carried firearms. A third male waited outside as a lookout and get-away driver.

Ravelette pointed the guns at and threatened the bank tellers. He also fired several shots at the pursuing O'Fallon police officer....

Ravelette faces up to 35 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 9.

May 20, 2010 at 10:09 AM | Permalink

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Comments

1. I suppose there are some people who'll believe this.

2. Persons acting out of altruistic motives generally do not try to kill the police, or anyone else.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 20, 2010 10:50:04 AM

Yes, you had me interested until the part where you fired multiple gunshots at a cop...

Posted by: Anon | May 20, 2010 4:13:30 PM

We could ask our own Javert...but he's already weighed in on the question.

Posted by: John K | May 21, 2010 11:49:58 AM

John K --

Since I use my real name here, and litigated dozens of reported cases for 20 years or so, feel free to find any opinion -- really, any at all -- that said I was acting like Javert, or indeed was acting in an unprofessional, unethical or unfair way in any manner whatever.

I'll wait.

Good luck!

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 21, 2010 2:12:27 PM

Was only kidding, Bill, just playing off of our Les Mis exchanges from a few months ago. I meant no offense.

FWIW: I didn't view Javert as unprofessional or unethical. To the contrary, he was professional and ethical to a fault. It was his rigidity and intense animus toward the offender -- his inability to question a law that punishes stealing bread with five years in prison -- that made him a villain.

Posted by: John K | May 21, 2010 8:50:45 PM

John K --

Thanks. No harm, no foul.

The problem with Javert was that he was on autopilot. You cannot be a responsible prosecutor (or a responsible anything) without thinking about what you're doing. Autopilot is for robots.

Les Miserables is a stunning novel. It contains one of the most moving scenes in literature, which is why your reference rang a bell with me.

Jean ValJean has made his escape and is offered lodging for a night at the Bishop's house. The Bishop doesn't know who the stranger is, but knows that he is a frightened, desperate and beaten-down man.

Before dawn, Jean ValJean rises and, having nothing, steals the Bishop's silver candlesticks from the mantle. He flees with them. Shortly thereafter, he is captured by the police and returned to the Bishop's house. Obviously he has told the police the wild story that the Bishop "gave" him the candlesticks. He knows that the jig is about to be up, and that he will be found out and returned to captivity.

The police show up at the door with the ragged and terrified ValJean in tow. The Bishop opens the door and immediately says, "You've come back! How good to see you my friend. You forgot to take this silver plate that I also intended for you!"

The cops are incredulous, but, given what they just heard, they let ValJean go and leave.

ValJean turns to the Bishop with a look of wonderment and disbelief. The Bishop looks him right in the eye and tells him in a soft voice, "I give you these things freely, but I want something from you in return. I want you to remove all the bitterness and hopelessness from your heart and give them to me."

Overcome by this unspeakable act of love, ValJean breaks down in wrenching sobs, releasing all his torment and pain. And, as the remainder of his honest, merciful and courageous life makes clear, he fulfilled the Bishop's request.

I read that when I was in the eighth grade and, obviously, have never forgotten it. Of course, for ValJean to be able to benefit from what the Bishop did for him, he had to have a good heart, one that could be brought back to life after all the privation and cruelty he had suffered. He had such a heart. Some people do. Others don't.

I was a prosecutor and an officer of a democratic government, not a bishop. I couldn't give away the requirements of the law, as they were not mine to give. But I had to think about what I was doing and who I was dealing with. I did, all the time.

Posted by: Bill Otis | May 22, 2010 12:00:22 AM

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