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April 24, 2008

Wesley Snipes gets 3-year max prison sentence urged by prosecutors

This ABCNews report indicates that a federal sentencing judge today decided to max out Wesley Snipes for his tax evasion convictions:

A Florida judge sentenced the "Blade" movie star to 3 years in jail today. Snipes was convicted of tax fraud in February for not filing his income taxes for at least three years....

In February, a federal jury convicted Snipes on three misdemeanor counts of failing to file a tax return. Jurors acquitted Snipes of felony tax fraud and conspiracy charges that carry more significant punishment upon conviction.  Had he been found guilty of all charges filed against him, Snipes could have faced up to 16 years in prison.

An august legal journal, E!-Online, has more details here.  Another august law publication, TMZ.com, also has more here.

April 24, 2008 at 06:18 PM | Permalink


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Some of those posters on the august legal sites you refer to appear to be under the impression that the sentence will magically be suspended.

Oh well. Now at least we also get tough on rich black defendants.

I hope we get a nice, long order out of this...

Posted by: Alec | Apr 24, 2008 6:41:30 PM

What is an "August Legal Journal"?

Posted by: | Apr 24, 2008 7:53:23 PM

3 years? that is just insane. It tells alot about the crazy lock up system we have.

Posted by: EJ | Apr 24, 2008 8:45:23 PM

Right or wrong, the IRS always seem to make examples of American citizens to enforce the very laws that they themselves do not understand.

I am an American Indian and former prison camp inmate who fell victum to the same IRS example, I still fail to see what this accomplishes. My heart goes out to the Snipe family and God bless.

Posted by: Rickey Brunet | Apr 24, 2008 9:17:48 PM

The tax code is a monstrosity that requires experts to understand.

Anybody here feel safer tonight knowing Snipes is going away for an outrageous extended stay at our expense? At least the prosecutor made the news on CNN. He's sure to get raised a pay grade or two.

Posted by: babalu | Apr 25, 2008 12:27:11 AM

Mr. Snipes was not convicted because the tax code was a "monstrosity" (even though I agree undoubtedly it is) or because he was being made an example of (even though I agree undoubtedly some people are). What Mr. Snipes did was nothing short of an obvious criminal act and he was aware of it while doing it. He was plain and simple a "tax protester" who just did not want to pay his taxes.

(By the way, I am a defense attorney who would normally never shy away from accusing the govt. of an unjust prosecution, if such an accusation was warranted).

Take a look at what he did: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/snipestax1.html

A multi-millionare tried to reduce his taxable income from $19 million to $0. And, he added the word "no" in the phrase "under [no] penalties of perjury" above his signature.

This is nothing more than blatant tax evasion, and Mr. Snipes knew it while he was doing it. Every hard working taxpayer who pays his/her fair share of American taxes should be proud of this prosecution and sentence.

Posted by: | Apr 25, 2008 12:46:19 AM

The reasons that the sentence is rediculous are :
1. It was inevitable that he would be caught.
2. It was a victimless crime.
3. He paid the tax.
4. Previous offences by others did not attract jail.
5. The precedent for jail is not there, and therefore the maximum is inappropriate.
etc, etc, etc.
The trouble with legal people is that they live in a fantasy world where they think others in society are incapable of thinking. They feed you BS full of holes that their cronies back up. I speak from experience.

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Posted by: mobic online | Apr 25, 2008 3:58:40 AM

Alec, That is funny. What kind of bozo thinks a federal sentence can be “suspended” yet along be “magically” suspended.

To everyone in general. Snipes was not convicted of failing to do anything hyper-technical. Nor was he convicted because the IRS disagreed with his interpretation of the tax code. His crime was rather simple and everyone would know it was a crime.

Brian, Most of your comments are inapplicable. Many crimes can be said to be “victimless” simply because there is not an identified victim. Nevertheless Congress has chosen to criminalize general offenses against society. You might disagree with this approach, but this is the way they chose to do things and few people object when people are jailed, for, say, counterfeiting, drunk driving, etc. Secondly, he did not “pay the tax.” He offered partial payment as a token of good faith, but this is not a situation where someone was, say, withholding the proper amount from their taxes and simply neglected to send in a 1040. Third, previous similar offenses have drawn jail sentences. (I will note, however, that lawyers that specialize in helping people in Snipes’ situation are generally aware that if someone comes forward before the government gets to them, they will generally avoid a jail term.)

But, Brianoh, does make an interesting point, “It was inevitable that he would be caught.” This actually has some appeal to me. However, I am not sure exactly how it plays out. Maybe you can develop the idea a bit more.

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 25, 2008 7:18:30 AM

The judge, Hodges said "In my mind these are serious crimes, albeit misdemeanors." Isn't misdemeanor the definition of a not-serious crime? 3 years is crazy, although I wonder what that will translate into in terms of actual time behind bars.

Posted by: Scott Rowley | Apr 25, 2008 8:00:24 AM

Why is the fact that it is inevitable that he would be caught a mitigating factor? Should society go easier on stupid or incompetent criminals?

Posted by: James Dillon | Apr 25, 2008 11:40:38 AM

"Should society go easier on stupid or incompetent criminals?"

Not sure. I wish someone would write a law review article about this. There are various parts of the Guidelines that appear to say that, yes, idiots should get lower sentences. But, in practice, smarter people will get lower sentences because they generally have made more lawful contributions to society and society doesn't disapprove of their conduct in the same way.

Posted by: S.cotus | Apr 25, 2008 11:54:32 AM

Conduct that seems stupid or incompetent after the fact is simply the brazen conduct of those who do not think they will be caught, or if apprehended, will not be prosecuted or hit with a swift and sure sanction.(there is good reason for this as only 10% of those who committ crime are punished with incarceration) Do gooders often try to mitigate behavior by labeling it "dumb" when the law of averages is actually on the side of the perp.

Posted by: anonymous | Apr 25, 2008 1:26:52 PM

Frankly, any court that takes a tax protester away from society is doing Darwin's work.

Posted by: azazel | Apr 25, 2008 3:24:15 PM

The government was very open and forthright about asking the court to impose the maximum sentence on Snipes because he is a celebrity and thus a severe sentence will make the news and provide free nationwide "advertising" of the fact that it's a crime not to pay your taxes.

If the government couldn't get national attention by the long sentence, they wouldn't have asked for it in this case.

So poor Blade the Vampire Daywalker has to be locked up solely because he's famous. Talk about unwarranted sentencing disparity. A nonfamous rich person guilty of the same acts would have received minimum prison time, if any at all since the money was fully paid.

The government will always be more evil than a person who fails to pay taxes to the government. If the government weren't so evil, it wouldn't need so much tax revenue in the first place.

Posted by: bruce | Apr 25, 2008 4:30:17 PM

A nonfamous rich person guilty of the same acts would have received minimum prison time, if any at all since the money was fully paid.

My understanding is that Snipes has paid much less than half of what he owes. I haven't been able to find any reports showing precisely how much he owes and how much he's paid, but neither have I found any reports that say or suggest that he paid up after he got caught. Do you have a link, bruce?

Posted by: | Apr 25, 2008 6:22:20 PM

The govt's memoranda cite cases where other clients of this scheme received prison sentences, ranging from two years to six years. In other words, the scheme's nonfamous clients are getting prison, and significant terms at that. Further, the loss attributable to Snipes constituted half of the scheme's total loss. As I see it, the government did not get a "celebrity penalty," but avoided a "celebrity discount." I see nothing inherently evil in the govt citing deterrence as a reason for not granting Snipes a lenient sentence. Also, Congress provided that the statutory maximum for Snipes' offenses was 36 months. Comparing Snipes' case to the typical failure to file case, I can see why the judge thought Snipes deserved the max.

Posted by: | Apr 25, 2008 8:34:52 PM

8:34:52, are you aware of what the other clients were convicted of and what their tax liability was?

I would guess (without being able to see the memorandum) that Snipes owed more money, but that the other clients probably got convicted of (or pled to) more serious charges than Snipes.

Posted by: | Apr 25, 2008 8:51:09 PM

S.cotus: Precisely my point. Lay reactions to Snipes' sentence indicate, at least on the sites cited by Prof. Berman, that there is some ignorance of the actual consequences of this (or any other) federal sentence.

I think many Americans are under the impression that there is a great deal of leniency in sentencing, and at the state level there is (to an extent) because of practical constraints on jailing or imprisoning offenders. I doubt most Americans realize how draconian our federal criminal justice system truly is.

Posted by: Alec | Apr 25, 2008 9:02:41 PM

My view is that anyone describing Snipes' sentence as "draconian" is not familar with the conduct described in the public filings, which included refusing to file returns or pay taxes for a decade, despite earning millions of dollars.(I'm informed the guidelines reached the 36 month stat max based upon defense counsel's own tax loss figure for the three counts of conviction, without consideration of relevant conduct.) Utilizing sham entities, Snipes transferred millions abroad, and he obstructed the IRS using documents purchased from the promoters. To the extent that Snipes was convicted of lesser offenses than other clients, I think he probably benefited from the lower stat max. And if comparing Snipes to the other clients of the scheme seems unfair, due to their counts of conviction being different (not all were), I think he also compares unfavorably to the typical failure to file case.

Posted by: | Apr 25, 2008 10:38:16 PM

Anonymous poster @ Apr 25, 2008 10:38:16 PM:

Speaking only for myself, I am not critical of his sentence because it was within guidelines or appropriate for them. I am critical of the guidelines and the underlying rationale behind the guidelines. The guidelines, IMO, are laughable. Do I proudly declare Snipes' sentence "draconian" (monster italics your property)? Yup.

Posted by: Alec | Apr 25, 2008 10:56:11 PM

I'm normally sympathetic to arguments that the guidelines lead to excessive sentencing, but three years for what amounts to a massive, multimillion dollar fraud scheme hardly strikes me as over the top.

Posted by: Jay | Apr 26, 2008 1:47:21 AM

Remember, Snipes was acquitted of the most serious charges regarding this scheme. Other people who were convicted did, of course, receive longer sentences.

I don't know exactly how much Snipes paid back, but I read somewhere that he made full restitution, but I don't know how accurate that is. Surely he would have paid back all the money (I'm assuming he can) to avoid prison, and surely that was discussed during talks w/ the prosecution.

Whenever I've had a client accused of theft (or otherwise owing money) the first thing I tell the prosecutor is that my client will be happy to pay it back, or make arrangements to pay it back (I've yet to have a client who couldn't afford to do so... though once it was close). I cannot fathom the notion that Snipes, either pre-indictment or post-indictment, didn't offer to pay back his taxes plus P&I.... maybe with some negotiation of the "P"....

Posted by: bruce | Apr 26, 2008 3:34:34 AM

Also, describing this as a "victimless crime" is wrong, I think. A prototypical victimless crime is possessing marijuana, or sodomy. These things pose no harm to other people; at most, they might harm the people doing the activity. Here, the victim is the government rather than an individual, but I think it's no less of a victim when someone essentially steals money from it. If someone walked out of a federal office building with a laptop, would that be a victimless crime? Another way of discerning whether a particular crime is victimless would be to ask whether the harm done increases with the number of people committing it. If pot smoking or sodomy double, that doesn't increase the amount of harm they do. But if the amount of tax evasion doubles, that's a pretty tangible increased harm.

Posted by: Jay | Apr 26, 2008 6:12:56 AM

Bruce, may I suggest that you actually read the filed memoranda (which is available on the net). Snipes' actual loss is much greater than $5 million. In re-reading the govt's memoranda I also see that Snipes reported having almost no liquid assets, something less than $10,000. Coming on the heels of his failure to report a $8 million house as an asset (also in the memoranda), I'm not sure Snipes' sudden, unexplained ability to write a $5 million check favored leniency.

Posted by: | Apr 26, 2008 6:29:39 AM

Here, the victim is the government rather than an individual

No, the victims here are many individuals. Everyone who receives Social Security, AFDC or Medicaid is a victim. All users of public schools, libraries, highways or other public amenities are victims. These days, even those public institutions that aren't directly administered by the Federal government tend to depend heavily on Federal funds, so rich tax cheats leave us all the losers. I'm a criminal defense lawyer, and I think three years is much too good for him.

(Halliburton's also a victim, of course, and richly deserves to be one, but we can't have everything.)

Posted by: azazel | Apr 26, 2008 10:38:26 AM

so august legal journals are entertainment magazines? Is that it?

Posted by: | Apr 27, 2008 8:38:54 PM

Snipes was acquitted of all fraud and felony charges & acquitted of half the misdemeanors. The alleged tax loss for the convicted counts -- in dispute -- was $2.7 million according to the government's highest estimates. Snipes paid $5 million, nearly twice the amount of alleged criminal tax loss. The only other cases the government cited for imprisonment ALL involved convictions or pleas to FELONIES and NONE involved ANY acquittals for ANY conduct. Snipes' sentence is the most draconian in the known history of federal criminal tax cases, especially for someone acquitted of ALL felony charges & half the misdemeanors. The real message from this verdict is 1) federal judges don't give a d--- about what juries say in their verdicts; 2) celebrities get treated harsher than ordinary Americans; and 3) don't get sentenced in Ocala before Judge Hodges.

Posted by: rebel | May 1, 2008 3:35:49 AM

Snipes is a homosexual. America no good. American government wants everybody to be jailed. Rickey Brunet is stupid.

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