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March 27, 2009

Rapper T.I. gets a year-and-a-day federal sentence on gun charges

I have not followed closely the crime and possible punishment of Clifford Harris, aka rap star T.I.  But today was his sentencing, and this early AP story provides the basics:

A judge has sentenced Rapper T.I. to one year and a day behind bars on federal weapons charges. The 28-year-old rapper, whose real name is Clifford Harris, was sentenced Friday.

He will have between 30 and 60 days to report to prison.  He already has completed about 1,000 hours of community service and has warned youths about the pitfalls of guns, drugs, violence. He will need to complete 470 more hours.  Harris pleaded guilty last March after he was arrested in 2007, attempting to buy unregistered machine guns and silencers.

Because I have not kept up with this case, I am not sure what the applicable guideline range that T.I. was facing.  I do know, however, that in the mixed-up world that is federal sentencing, a prison term of one year and a day is actually better than a sentence of, say, 11 months because it means that Harris will be eligible for good-time credits that could entail he servers only just over 10 months actually behind bars.

UPDATE:  I just found this AJC article providing useful back-story on the deal that led to this sentence: 

Federal sentencing guidelines recommended T.I. serve at least four years and nine months behind bars. But T.I.’s defense team worked out an unheard of deal with federal prosecutors: If T.I. would perform at least 1,000 hours of community service, telling kids about the pitfalls of crime, drugs and gangs and encouraging them to respect the law, he could surrender to the Bureau of Prisons a year later and get a reduced sentence.

Area criminal defense lawyers howled in protest, saying T.I. traded his celebrity for leniency. Federal prosecutors countered the rapper’s influential message would help prevent crime.   T.I. has fulfilled his part of the bargain, said Steve Sadow, one of the rapper’s lawyers. “T.I. took this opportunity and ran with it beyond anyone’s expectations.”

A sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday by T.I.’s defense team says the rapper has complied with all the requirements of his plea agreement. This includes serving 300 days of home confinement, attending more than 260 events and earning 1,006 hours of community service credit.

March 27, 2009 at 10:58 AM | Permalink


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While I am a proponent of alternative sentencing and an advocate for desperately needed prison reform, I think this sentence is a slap in the face to every other individual who received a draconian sentence over the years in Georgia for similar crimes. It is a sad disparity to see someone, who is probably a worse criminal than the majority of offenders (9 firearms, and he is already a convicted felon), receive such leniency based on celebrity.

Cheers to the alternative sentencing, but further disappointment in the prosecutors and a broken system.

Posted by: JP | Mar 27, 2009 11:21:49 AM

University student
It makes me think of Paris Hilton, and the dozen of other celebrities who were lightly jailed. However, due to his community service, does that redeem him to be a more responsible person?

Posted by: Brittney | Mar 27, 2009 12:07:37 PM

How is this any different than a someone who gets a lesser sentence because they have vital information. Where does it say that plea deals have to be fair. Some people simply have more to trade. In TI's case, he reportedly did a great deal with urban youths and spoke against guns and gangs. It's his celebrity that made his message worthwhile. Even MTV jumped on the bandwagon airing a show where he chronicled his experience. I for one, don't have a problem with TI getting a break as the fed saw an opportunity to do some good.

Posted by: Chris | Mar 27, 2009 12:08:48 PM

The Paris Hilton meme is a meme, and I hate memes. Probably nothing does more to encourage disrespect for the law than the media selfish 1st Amendment right.

Records Show Paris Hilton's Jail Sentence is Longer Than 80% of Others Similarly Situated

Posted by: George | Mar 27, 2009 1:21:45 PM

I actually don't have a problem with this sentence because I support alternative sentencing..that works. So my question is: did anyone study to see if the prosecutors were right. Were there surveys done before and after his speeches to see if audiences attitudes were changed. I honestly don't have a problem with them trading off his celebrity *if* it works are they intended. But if it makes no difference, then celebrities shouldn't be getter a different deal.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 27, 2009 2:23:28 PM

As one of T.I.'s defense attorneys, we should all applaud what the judge in this case did and what he said at sentencing in support of his sentence: "I'm tired of just locking people up and destroying lives and families. This was an experimental sentence and it was a success. Other judges should learn from what we did here." Certainly, it is true that most people who are sentenced in federal court are not lucky enough to have a U.S. Attorney and a judge who will listen to the arguments of defense counsel who advocate for something far outside the guidelines; and a sentence that genuinely attempts to achieve a greater good for the community than the typical deterrence/incapacitation goal. Rather than decry the "favoritism" that was shown to T.I., we should applaud the judge and prosecutor who had the courage and enlightened perspective to impose this sentence and encourage others to do the same.
Don Samuel

Posted by: Don Samuel | Mar 27, 2009 7:49:56 PM


Kudos. I am curious if what appeared to be a potential problem with the proofs played in to the sentencing agreement and how you negotiated the plea which seems to be an exceptionally good plea for the Government and your client.

Posted by: karl | Mar 27, 2009 8:57:37 PM

I actually agree with both perspectives. This is an exemplary sentence and the defense, prosecutors, and judge all deserve praise. However, on the flip side, I bet there are a majority of inmates who would be willing to undergo significantly more than 1,000 hours of community service to receive a similar break in their sentence, although the only differential is celebrity status, which almost appears to penalize them.

I would also argue that this is different than someone who provides substantial assistance, which can depart from the guidelines based on their willingness to testify or point out the next person in line. This was not of that nature and T.I. did not need to "snitch" on anyone to receive the benefit.

Great job defense attorneys, and great thanks to the judge for acknowledging that alternative sentencing can be more beneficial overall to everyone.


Posted by: Mike | Mar 27, 2009 9:26:20 PM

We believed that there were aspects of the initial investigation that could be defended on the basis of entrapment. T.I. instructed his security personnel to purchase guns to ensure the safety of their entourage. The security guard decided to purchase illegal machine guns (or was convinced by an undercover agent to do so) and was promptly arrested and started working with the government. He then encouraged T.I. to personally take possession of the machine guns, which T.I. had never previously indicated a desire to do. T.I. simply wanted to arm his security entourage. T.I. had recently been attacked following a concert and his best friend and business partner was murdered in the car in which they were driving. So that part of the case was defensible. Thereafter, however, a search of his house revealed numerous other guns in his safe, which were hard to explain under any defense theory. But once we started dicussing the plea proposal with the government, the U.S. Attorney was immediately interested, and the merits of the defense and the weakness of the prosecution was never discussed again. We haggled over the number of hours of community service and the other terms of the supervised release. What none of us expected, however, was the amazing ability that T.I. had to energize crowds of teenagers and young adults. By the end of the year of community service, we were receiving letters of praise from DA's around the country, as well as the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Former Ambassador to the U.N. Andy Young testified at sentencing about the courage of white judges during the civil rights movement and compared the judge in our case to them: praising his foresight in trying to help the community, rather than abide by conventional practices.

Posted by: Don Samuel | Mar 27, 2009 9:34:24 PM

When a celebrity kills or hurts someone because a slick, Dream Team lawyer has let them get away with a prior crime, sometimes with double murders, the future victims and survivors of the celebrity's subsequent crimes should bring street justice to the vile criminal lover lawyer, the vile criminal lover prosecutor, and the vile criminal lover judge colluding to loose the vicious thug on the public. They should not be killed. They should be gut shot or knee capped. To deter. The system is rigged airtight against victims. There is no recourse but self-help.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 27, 2009 10:20:54 PM

Don. I think you did exactly what a good defense attorney would do and I have no quibble with that. I also have no quibble with the what the US Attorney did or what the judge did because I am always open to innovative sentencing. Just about anything is worth a try at least once.

What I have a problem with is the foundation upon which the judge declares the sentence a "success". It seems that it was a publicity success, given all the letters that were written on T.I's behalf by adults. But the argument in favor of giving him a break was that he could "spread the word," "get out the message," etc. to *kids* about the danger of crime. Nowhere have I read about whether that message was successful or not. T.I. may have thrown his heart into it, that's great. He may have impressed a lot of adults, that's super. But that is all beside the point. The question is did he change the attitudes of any kids. "at least 1,000 hours of community service, telling *kids* about the pitfalls of crime, drugs and gangs and encouraging them to respect the law." (emphasis added). The impact on those kids is the only measure of success that counts from a public policy point of view. And nowhere have I seen that discussed. Until I know that T.I's message changed kids, I would not be fain to acknowledge this experimental sentence a success.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 28, 2009 1:12:59 AM

Hey Don, who are the "we"?

Posted by: Steve Sadow | Mar 28, 2009 9:03:05 AM

In answer to the last post, the "we" are two lawyers who masterminded the plea agreement and negotiated most of the terms with the U.S. Attorney's office to achieve this result: Steve Sadow and Ed Garland. I was the lawyer on the team who kept saying, "This will never work; they'll never go for this . . ."

Posted by: Don Samuel | Mar 28, 2009 9:18:56 AM

Daniel: I'm not sure that there is a tool that could measure what kids have not committed a crime, or stolen a gun, or abused another kid after hearing T.I. speak. I attended one of the community service events and can tell you that he was astonishingly engaging. I have watched prosecutors and police officers and parole officers speak to "at risk" teenagers and invariably there is a lot of shock and awe in the presentation and in the audience a lot of giggling. Not so with T.I. Rapt attention. But unless we were to evaluate the lives of the people in the audience over the next five years and determine who stayed in school; who stayed out of jail; who didn't buy a gun, (and compare that group with a similar group that did not attend) I can't imagine that we could do anything more than speculate that he has had an impact on one life; perhaps five lives; perhaps hundreds; perhaps more.

Posted by: Don Samuel | Mar 28, 2009 9:28:13 AM

I suppose it is just the difference between a social scientist and a lawyer. While certainly I agree that it is impossible to measure the impact of one speech on a child's life given the myriad confounding factors, I don't accept the fact that nothing can be measured or studied. "Rapt attention" is not a useful metric for success. Take the case study that was mentioned a few days ago on this blog about the OK City bombings. I did't walk away from that study convinced; it wasn't proof beyond a reasonable doubt, it wasn't even proof by the preponderance of the evidence. But it was a valid attempt to measure a subject that by definition is difficult to measure. What bothers me here is not that innovation, it's the complete lack of any rigorous follow-up to determine if that innovation was worth repeating. And really, that is not an objection I have to you or your team as defense attorneys. It's an objection that I have to the US Attorney and the judge, who should have insisted on some type of follow-up on the target audience.

Posted by: Daniel | Mar 28, 2009 11:17:48 AM

I have a question Don. Was the plea agreement signed before the deal was reached? I mean, I know there is steps to take but is it possible to come up with a idea like this after a plea deal was signed? Of course, before sentencing.

I think this is awesome and I hope and pray that this will work for people that do not have celebrity status. I know all people do not have the character for this but I know there is alot of people that made a wrong decision and could be a perfect candidate for something like this.

Posted by: Mother of 3 kids that father is in that situation | May 3, 2009 10:55:31 PM

Doing that for T.I. was great now let me see you do it for the regular Joe. Just as his fame can help him put the message out so can someone who has regular ties to his community. I can remember when I was young listing to the regular Joe who was recently released from prison tell his story and why we should not follow in his foot steps. Soooo money talks. That is the bottom line money. I listened to the regular Joe and took his message as a lesson in life. I could relate to him because he was just like me a regular member of the community. If T.I. or someone who had fame when I was young tried to talk to me about gangs and such, I would be excited that I was in the same room (in other words I would be star struck). Sorry it is not fair. Those that have money will do less time for a crime than those that do not have the money to pay lawyers. You see T.I. can talk all he wants to but the reality is when he is finshed with his 1,000 hours of community service the people he mentored will not be able to contact him. Well I saw the man who mentored a group of us all the time growing up because he lived in my community. He would always ask us if we were staying out of trouble, staying in school and what were our plans for our future. I challange you Lawyers e-mail me I have a case for you.

Posted by: Karen | Sep 15, 2009 4:01:53 PM

Sorry. Just a person in the community with a byfriend in the same situation. I live in an urban community.

Posted by: Karen | Sep 15, 2009 4:04:37 PM

Glad you posted this' I had similar weapon charges in 2006 the U.S.Attorney wasnt trying to do no alternative sentencing-It was either plea what my level was or trial. Eventually I beat it on my trial date.This will raise questions in future cases'because are so many brothers who are doing way heavier time with the same exact charge'Why wasnt rapper B.G. given alternative sentencing? Thanks for sharing light on that.

Posted by: quincy williams | Jun 1, 2014 11:39:13 PM

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