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April 16, 2008

A taxing analysis of celebrity sentencing issue in US v. Snipes

Writing over at Slate's Convictions, David Feige has this interesting post highlight that the "impending sentencing of Wesley Snipes on his misdemeanor tax convictions nicely frames an interesting question about celebrity and sentencing."  Here are snippets from this post:

Basically, what the government is arguing here is that Snipes needs to be hammered for his celebrity. The clear suggestion is that because he's a high-profile defendant, sending him to prison for a long period of time is like a deterrent bonanza.  The thing that strikes me, though, is that unlike political trials, or those of thieving cops who abuse a position of trust, Snipes is an actor who never took an oath to serve, protect, or do much of anything else other than look out for No. 1. So here, unlike those other high-profile or political cases that involve an abuse of trust or authority, we really are talking about a sentencing enhancement purely on the basis of notoriety.

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April 16, 2008 at 04:42 PM | Permalink


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They confuse "notorious" with "famous." They call him a "truly notorious defendant" but very few people know about this tax offense. People know him from the Blade vampire movies (whether he should be punished for those is a different issue altogether). Notorious means famous for a bad, typically criminal, reason.

The theory that Snipes should serve more time than an equally culpable defendant who is not a movie star/celebrity is horrendously improper. If a defendant argued for a downward variance due to such a reason, the government would object like crazy. Deterrence is what I'd call a general goal of sentencing, but not a specific goal. It's implicit in any arrest, conviction, and sentence (even probation). But to argue one particular defendant should be sentenced extra so we can make a 30-second spot out of it and get a whole bunch of press and really let people know that this sort of thing is illegal and will be prosecuted - that's cruel, and violates due process and equal protection. The notion that the government could make a bigger whoopdeedoo out of the conviction of a particular defendant and thus that defendant should be sentenced higher is laughable, and I can't believe any judge wouldn't immediately shoot down such an argument. If anything, Snipes deserves a LESSER sentence due to his celebrity. His prosecution has brought the government attention to tax protesters that it wouldn't have gotten with a non-celebrity defendant. To be sure, that's why they indicted Snipes. Since his celebrity is what got him "picked" as a defendant, and since that celebrity has benefitted the government during the course of these criminal proceedings, I think Snipes deserves a sort of "substantial assistance" credit over and above what section 3E1 of the guidelines him.

Posted by: bruce | Apr 16, 2008 8:13:42 PM

Bruce overlooks that the intended tax loss from Snipes' participation in this grand scheme to defraud the tax-paying citizenry was $10 million. That is reason enough to be "picked on" in my estimation.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 17, 2008 1:02:32 PM

he was acquitted of the grand scheme.

Posted by: bruce | Apr 17, 2008 1:23:58 PM

The sentence imposed by the Court will be the best barometer of Snipes' guilt or innocense in the broader scheme.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 17, 2008 3:28:07 PM

Personally, I think tax protesters should routinely get the max as punishment for sheer stupidity.

Posted by: azazel | Apr 17, 2008 7:35:22 PM

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