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September 20, 2011

Important sentencing ruling in favor of lobbyist involved in Abramoff scandal

As detailed in this new Washington Post piece, which is headlined "Judge slashes recommended sentencing guidelines for defendant convicted in Abramoff scandal," a high-profile case has resulted today in an important sentencing ruling.  Here are the basics:

A federal judge on Tuesday dramatically cut the Justice Department’s recommended sentencing range for a lobbyist convicted of bribing public officials in the Abramoff scandal and said prosecutors cannot retaliate against him for fighting his charges at trial.

The prosecutors had recommended ex-lobbyist Kevin Ring get a 17- to 22-year prison sentence for treating federal officials to meals and event tickets in exchange for favors. That would have exceeded the time served by all 20 other defendants in the conspiracy combined, including ringleader Jack Abramoff who was sentenced to four years.

The difference is that Ring, a 40-year-old from Kensington, Md., who worked for Abramoff, made the rare decision among defendants in the scandal to go to trial instead of reaching a plea deal.  He tried to argue his wining and dining of government officials was just standard lobbyist work to build relationships with government figures.  An initial jury could not agree whether he was guilty or not. He was convicted by a second jury trial in November.

Ring’s attorneys argue prosecutors’ sentencing recommendations were retaliation for exercising his constitutional right to trial.  U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle wrote in an opinion that “it is easy to see why such an inference might be justified.”

“The notion that an ostensibly objective system of sentencing guidelines can produce such wildly varying results for essentially the same offense conduct is deeply troubling,” Huvelle wrote.  She ruled that Ring’s guideline range should be 3-5 years, but she is free to punish him outside that range at sentencing scheduled for Oct. 26....

Only in Ring’s case prosecutors are arguing he should get an enhanced sentence under the guidelines because of the grants and appropriations he and his co-conspirators were able to get for his clients at the Abramoff firm in exchange for his corrupt relationships with public officials.  They put that value at more than $14 million, including $7.3 million in increased funding for a jail for an Indian tribe client.

Prosecutors had argued at a hearing last month on the issue that they were not retaliating against Ring, but instead were free to be lenient toward defendants who agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with their investigation.  Huvelle wrote their argument was “unpersuasive.”

She said the prosecutors’ position could discourage defendants from exercising their right to trial.  She wrote that while there might be disparities in the ultimate sentence that cooperating defendants get, “the government cannot retaliate against defendant for exercising his rights.”

The full opinion handed down today in US v. Ring, No. 08-274 (D.D.C. Sept. 20, 2011), runs 40+ pages and is available at this link and has this additional appendix.

September 20, 2011 at 05:10 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I admit to being confused. The trial penalty is so common and so well understood (i.e., exercising the right to trial results in a harsher sentence if convicted) that I wonder, having not read the opinion, on what basis is "retaliation for exercising [the] constitutional right to trial" problematic? Isn't that the entire theoretical basis of modern plea bargaining? What am I missing?

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Sep 20, 2011 5:56:44 PM

This is why the judicial branch is often the only branch that doesn't deserve contempt.

Grits, what if the guidelines required an enhanced sentence for anyone who exercised his/her right to trial? Obviously unconstitutional if expressly so stated. There is already a reward for "cooperating" and that is downward departures for doing so. Obviously, Ring will not earn that "reward" or you could say, speaking of bribes, that bribe didn't work with him. Heh-heh.

Posted by: Anon | Sep 20, 2011 7:24:41 PM

so AGAIN they could not get a REAL conviction in the first LEGAL trial! but have to hound innocent citizens into multiple trials till they basically convict to be done with it!. oh i'm sure some will say that's becasue the state has now had a look at whatever the defence has and can now take the time to blow it out of the water using thier basically UNLIMITED resources...but WE WILL NEVER KNOW will WE!

EITHER way a retrial in cases like this are COMPLETLY UNCONSTUITION ON THEIR FACE!

"An initial jury could not agree whether he was guilty or not. He was convicted by a second jury trial in November."

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 21, 2011 1:04:35 AM

hmm

" I wonder, having not read the opinion, on what basis is "retaliation for exercising [the] constitutional right to trial" problematic? Isn't that the entire theoretical basis of modern plea bargaining? What am I missing?"

Maybe the FACT that this is the ONLY one of over 20 defendents to take the charges to trial and it both took them TWO TRIES to even get a conviction....and the other FACT the prosecution wants him give more time then the OTHER TWENTY PEOPLE COMBINED including THE ONE THE WHOLE DAMN THING IS NAMED AFTER!

like the judge said no way that doesn't look like PLAIN SOUR GRAPES on the DA's side!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 21, 2011 1:07:38 AM

I agree it sounds like retaliation on the part of prosecutors for taking the case to trial. I just don't understand how this isn't exactly the same as every other case where prosecutors seek harsher sentences, pile on extra charges, etc., if they must take a case to trial. That's virtually the only reason anyone accepts plea bargains, because prosecutors are "free to be lenient toward defendants who agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with their investigation." Or they usually are.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that retaliation is a good thing. I just don't understand what - constitutionally or otherwise - limits the prosecutors' discretion. This happens daily, right?

Guess I'll have to find time to read the damn thing.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Sep 21, 2011 7:22:08 AM

Rodsmith - I agree to being confused (I've not read it either). How does the client get acceptance if he's gone to trial? How would saying they're just retaliating work when as you say, it's so commonplace to deny it (even in small simple gun felonies for example).

Posted by: fedpd | Sep 21, 2011 1:25:15 PM

well pasically fedpd if you forgoe your right to a jury trial the DA will pat you on the head and give you a somewhat reasonable sentence....and even that has been taking a hit latly!

but in this case. He was the ONLY one out of 21 or more defentants to take the case to trial and even then they could NOT get a conviciton. instead they had to do an ILLEGAL SECOND TRIAL to get one!

and as punishment for forcing them through all that trouble. They want him to serve MORE TIME then the OTHER TWENTY PEOPLE COMBINED! including the RING LEADER the whole thing is NAMED AFTER!

THAT is why the judge is bucking....they have made it too obvious WHAT THEY ARE DOING!

Posted by: rodsmith | Sep 21, 2011 6:06:31 PM

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