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August 3, 2011

"Rod Blagojevich may get off easy while others rot in prison"

The title of this post is the headline of this provocative new commentary from the Washington Times.  Here are excerpts:

Former Illinois governor and convicted felon Rod Blagojevich will have his sentencing hearing on Oct. 6.   He faces up to 300 years in prison on various corruption charges.   He will probably receive between 6-1/2 and 15 years.  Raping, pillaging, and plundering the public trust is not treated the same as other heinous crimes.

The hirsute governor’s attorney claims Blagojevich will testify at his sentencing hearing. What is he going to say?   He worked hard for the people of Illinois?   He was the people’s governor?  We’ve heard all that before.

There are indications that people will testify on his behalf.   Who?   There are no Friends of Blagojevich. Where were these people when he needed to pay his legal bills? The U.S. Government, us, the people, the tax payers, had to pay for his attorneys.

For some reason politicians do not have to sell their homes, other real estate, or empty their bank accounts and retirement funds to pay their legal bills. Unlike the rest of us, politicians don’t have to be bankrupted when accused of federal crimes. They are a protected class....

This slubberdegullion, and all political scoundrels, rapscallions, and scalawags, should get the maximum sentence for any crime they commit.   They should be held to the highest standards of conduct and the highest levels of justice.  If Blagojevich is facing 300 hundred years then 300 hundred years he should get. There should be no mitigating circcumstances for political corruption.

Bernie Madoff is in prison until the day he dies, and probably beyond, for violating the trust of people who should have known better.   Bernie Madoff was held to a higher standard than pedophiles and serial killers.  But, he did not violate the public trust. If Madoff could be sentenced to eternal life in prison why can’t politicians?

Why should they get a break?  Why should there be mitigating circumstances? Who cares how many people he allegedly helped?   Who cares if he loved his parents, is a good husband and father, helps elderly people cross the street, and goes to church on Sunday? Who cares about his record of achievements as an elected official?  He was convicted of corruption.  He should go down hard.

Rod Blagojevich, and any elected official, should get the maximum sentence if they are convicted of corruption.   A violation of the public trust is a heinous crime.   They should get these draconian sentences to set an an example for others.   Others who may, just may, think twice before sticking our their grubby hands for the kachingos.  There should be no pity, no mercy, and no humanity.

In addition to welcoming comments about what others hoep or believe Blago should get at his federal sentencing on October 6, I would love to hear what readers think about the basic proposition set forth in this commentary that every elected official "should get the maximum sentence if they are convicted of corruption."

August 3, 2011 at 10:09 AM | Permalink


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Prof -
   The author of this article, Peter Bella, is angry and ranting. Anger leads to subjectivity which has no place in the sentencing forum. This is why we have judges, sentencing guidelines, and a checklist of factors a judge may and may not consider at sentencing.

   What end would this proposition achieve? If judges maxed out sentencing guidelines range for each conviction and then ran those consecutively for every politician that sat in front of them, is the hope that this would have helpful ramifications? Lets take a look:

From 18 U.S.C. §3553(a)(2)(A-C) sentences need to:
   (A) reflect the seriousness of the offense;
   (B) afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct;
   (C) protect the public from further crimes of the defendant.

   Reflecting seriousness of the offense seems to be the basis for Bella's argument. While it is a serious crime to breach the trust of anybody (see Bernie Madoff), betraying the trust of the entire state of Illinois is even worse right? Right.

   The article above goes no further, though. Looking at (B) and (C) shows why politicians such as Blagojevich may get low-end sentences. Adequate deterring effects are a joke, IMHO, because the corrupt politician may be the second oldest profession, behind prostitution. Politics will always have corruption, regardless of the consequences that have beset a corrupt politician's fallen peers.

   Finally, (C) calls for the public to be protected from further crimes of Blagojevich. He will never have the ability to hold public office again, nor will anybody in IL every entrust him with anything anymore. He will never again be able to commit the crimes he committed in the instant case, and therefore wouldn't be hammered by a judge using this section either. So besides angry, retributive punishment, what is the argument for a sentence usually reserved for the pedophiles and serial killers that Bella mentions?

Posted by: Eric Matthews | Aug 3, 2011 11:35:34 AM

Peter Balla (staff) wrote: "He will probably receive between 6-1/2 and 15 years.

"Raping, pillaging, and plundering the public trust is not treated the same as other heinous crimes."

Raping, pillaging, and plundering? Would Mr. Bella testify to these accusations under penalty of perjury? Blagojevich should sue the writer and the paper. Mr. Bella could argue as a defense that he is permitted to lie because Blagojevich is a public figure. Or that it was merely poetic license. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, "journalists" are held in the same esteem as congress, right around the esteem of excrement.

Posted by: MadAsHell | Aug 3, 2011 12:51:59 PM

He's an elected official. So he won't get elected again and his reputation is ruined. That is a lot of punishment.
I don't understand the rant against an elected official when unelected officials go unchecked. Prosecutors make decisions to prosecute for political gain, they have been known to withhold important information from the defense, use testimony from people who have been know to lie for profit..... but there is no punishment of 300 years in prison for Prosecutors.

Posted by: J | Aug 3, 2011 2:20:53 PM

Last I checked, we aren’t exactly under-punishing the actual crimes of “[r]aping, pillaging, and plundering.” Blago presents no onging threat to public safety, and for those similarly situated, the possibility of practically any prison sentence is deterrent enough.

I would be happy with 2 years, though I am sure he will get at least the 6½ to 15 that the writer predicted. I certainly would not argue for more. Anything longer would just be a waste.

Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Aug 3, 2011 3:50:59 PM

I agree to some extent with comments above, but I disagree that prison time is not a deterrent for corrupt politicians/white-collar criminals. I think it certainly is. Of course, 300 years is unnecessary. But any kind of prison time is enough, I think, to at least get potential white-collar/corruption defendants' attention.

Posted by: Anon | Aug 3, 2011 6:15:08 PM

I am a lawyer in Illinois who represents a lot of prisoners. I strongly believe that this country imposes far longer sentences for virtually every crime than is rational (or just, or economically feasible).

However, I agree with the underlying premise of Balla's commentary--public officials (elected, appointed, employed, or otherwise) who use their public office for private gain should receive among the harshest sentences. If prison is a deterent for anyone, it is white collar criminals. Sentencing Blagojevitch to 30 years in prison would send a very strong message to Illinois politicians that the days of abusing office, going to prison, and getting out in time to live a full life are OVER. If you violate the public trust, then your life is over.

Posted by: Alan Mills | Aug 3, 2011 6:22:56 PM

I agree with Anon's comments that the majority of people do not realize what it means to lose one's freedoms and that many sentences are draconian for the crime committed.

I was in jail for 27 days based upon a false accusation and almost lost all of my assets.

To those that haven't been held against their will, this amount of time doesn't seem like much, but it is devastating to many aspects of a person's life. Imagine what would happen if you had no notice and didn't remove your belongings from your residence prior to the rent being due. You have no access to any checks so that you can pay your bills. In addition, a person suffers from the lack of contact with family and friends. In jail, no on cares about you.

In jail, you're compelled at what times to awaken; to go to sleep; and to que up for food and medication - in my case, blood pressure medication twice a day, which wasn't the same as what I was prescribed by my doctor. You also line up once a week to exchange your one uniform for a laundered one - underwear is an extra personal expense.

Atrophy in the brain also happens from the sheer boredom, which is why many of those incarcerated will politely listen to ministers who come by, usually weekly. If there is a TV and the channel isn't preset, the majority will typically watch a few shows that one despises.

There is no email or internet access. Of the few fiction books that existed in jail, I had no access to a book with a reading level for a fifth grader. You have to phone collect at rates significantly higher than the cell phone rates of the 90's, in addition to having very limited access to the phone.

The majority of those incarcerated with me admitted that they had committed something illegal. However, even in my group of 32 there was at least one person who, in my opinion, didn't do what he was awaiting trial for, which was murder. He had been in for 18 months, submitted DNA without being compelled, had an alibi, and had been offered a plea agreement of time-served if he would admit guilt, which he refused. Of course, this was the same prosecutor's office that pursued Casey Anthony.

It seems that the goal of many prosecutors these days is to win without regard to their obligatory task of seeking justice.

The majority in this country do not realize how devastating it is to fight against the full weight of the state. Even if you're innocent and win, unless you're extremely wealthy it will exact a substantial toll on your resources just as it did with Georgia Thompson in her case. - http://tinyurl.com/44uycr7.

I had not intended for this post to be this long and I am not professionally affiliated with the law, but have become interested in learning about the law by reading numerous appellate opinions; learning about the plight of the wrongfully convicted; and in studying the rapidly growing trend of over-criminalization.

Posted by: Clark A. | Aug 4, 2011 2:28:00 AM

I'm not a fan of sentencing guidelines, whether mandatory or advisory. But, so long as they exist, they will be used. Guidelines that apply to crimes of public corruption compare this public official's corrupt activities to the corrupt activities of other public officials, not to murderers, rapists, thieves, cheats, etc. Some are more corrupt than others, and should be so treated, and the less-blameworthy should be treated with less-harsh penalties. Who's going to give these people another chance at the public trough in the future, even if they are theoretically eligible for public office again? I still like the idea of the federal sentencing provision, "sufficient, but not greater than necessary, . . . "

Posted by: Greg Jones | Aug 4, 2011 11:06:26 AM

"Who's going to give these people another chance at the public trough in the future, even if they are theoretically eligible for public office again?"

Washington D.C. did reelect Marion Barry

Posted by: Clark A. | Aug 4, 2011 2:11:17 PM

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