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January 28, 2009

Two intriguing sentencing stories show the impact of cable TV on federal justice

Two new local stories about two very different federal prosecutions have one notable link: cable TV shows seemed to have had an the operation of the federal criminal justice system in both cases.

First, consider this Tennessee story, headlined "Moonshine maestro gets 18 months."  Here are some of the cable-influenced details:

A federal judge sentenced Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton to 18 months in prison on moonshining and weapons charges Monday, rejecting arguments that Sutton deserved a sentence of probation because he had reformed and was too ill to serve prison time....

Sutton has a broad circle of supporters, and nearly 1,500 people signing petitions of leniency on his behalf.  He gained fame through a book he wrote called “Me and My Likker,” as well as through Internet videos and cable TV documentaries in which he demonstrated how to make moonshine.

That notoriety may have harmed him in the sentencing hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Reeves introduced several of the videos as evidence Monday, claiming they showed Sutton “flaunted criminal activity.”  The judge appeared to agree. “Your moonshining is a violation of the law,” [the judge] told Sutton. “I don't care how it is glamorized on the History Channel or the Discovery Channel.”

Second, consider this Connecticut story, headlined " Child porn purveyor fights prison sentence."  Here are some of the cable-influenced details:

A man who was sentenced to more than three years in federal prison for possessing child pornography after a state judge gave him probation for possessing the same material is fighting the federal sentence — unsuccessfully so far....  [Defendant Edward] Burke pleaded guilty in October 2007 to a federal charge of possessing child pornography, which would have been extremely difficult for his lawyers to defend against at trial because he had pleaded guilty to the same conduct in Hartford Superior Court.

The federal prosecution began after the Journal Inquirerreported on Burke’s sentence of probation at the state level, imposed in October 2006 by Judge Thomas P. Miano in Hartford Superior Court. Miano put Burke on probation for five years, with 10 years of potential prison time hanging over his head if he violated court-ordered conditions.  The hundreds of images of child pornography found on Burke’s computer included sexual abuse of toddlers and the bondage and rape of prepubescent girls, authorities have said.

Heather Nann Collins, then a JIreporter, appeared on Cable News Network’s Nancy Grace show to discuss the case.  During the show, Grace said, as if speaking to Miano, “You are in contempt.”  Burke’s lawyers argued in court papers that the federal prosecution was “unduly influenced” by Grace’s attack on Miano.

January 28, 2009 at 12:57 PM | Permalink


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Speaking of Nancy Grace, the LA Times just posted a new article: The line between good and evil is so clear on Nancy Grace's hour of outrage on Headline News.

Two minutes of hate. Sixty minus commercials, actually. But at least Grace is honest. She hates the Bill of Rights.

Posted by: George | Jan 28, 2009 4:22:37 PM

I hereby propose the Nancy Grace Defense, whereby an attorney uses the fact that Grace has latched onto something as proof that the supposition under examination is wrong.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jan 28, 2009 4:46:29 PM

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