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July 28, 2013

Is 898-year federal sentence symbolic and meaningful or senseless and misguided?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this federal sentencing story out of Texas, headlined "Victim Assaulted by Fake Producer Finds Closure in Sentencing," which was sent my way by Josh Blackman. Here are the basics:

898 years is what a Gemase Lee Simmons will now have to serve for 39 counts of various bank fraud and child pornography offenses. Simmons would tell young men and women that he had a modeling agency and as part of their "sessions" would take naked pictures of some of them.

Bianca Love, a victim, told the judge in federal court that Simmons had scammed her out of money and sex.

Jailers also informed the judge that while waiting for his sentencing Simmons had managed to get other sexual predators to perform sex acts on him. According to investigators Simmons told 2 other prisoners that it was part of a test the U.S. Attorney's Office administered.   Simmons told them he would help them to pass it so they would get less time.

For a much more literary account of this case, I discovered this fascinating opinion discussing the defendant and his crimes.  The opinion is authored by Chief District Judge Fred Biery (WD Texas) to explain his conclusion, after a bench trial, that Simmons was guilty of all the counts against him (and likely many more).  This opinion is a must read in part because, in less than four pages, it makes reference to, inter alia, The Wizard of Oz, Catch Me if You Can, Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Dante's Inferno.  In addition, in response to a quote from the defendant's trial testimony, the judge in this opinion drops a footnote which simply reads: "LOL".

Though I really enjoyed reading the opinion linked above and I can see why Chief Judge Biery was eager to throw the book at Gemase Lee Simmons, I still question the decision to impose a sentence of 898 years.  (In addition, as Josh suggested to me, such an extreme sentence might give the defendant here a non-frivolous claim on appeal that his sentence is unreasonable.)   I tend not to be a fan of legal fictions or of treating the imposition of hundreds of years in prison as just numbers on a page.  While I suspect that a life sentence was not possible because none of the charges carried such a statutory term, I also suspect that a potent message without such a crazy number would have been sent had Chief Judge Biery imposed a terms of, say, 100 years.

That all said, the fact that Chief Judge Biery imposed a sentence of 898 years caught Josh's attention and mind, and perhaps that was part of what Chief Judge Biery hoped to achieve with this remarkable sentencing term.  And if Chief Judge Biery were to write another sensational (and short) opinion to explain his lastest decision in this case, I might well come to the conclusion that the societal ends justify the sentencing means here.

July 28, 2013 in Procedure and Proof at Sentencing, Purposes of Punishment and Sentencing, Scope of Imprisonment, Sex Offender Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (14) | TrackBack