Crime in the Suites: An Analyis of Current Issues in White Collar Defense
Posts Tagged ‘Judge Spencer’
Jan 06
2015

Even Governors Go To Jail

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Photo Credit:  Steve Helber, AP

This afternoon, the long-running saga of Robert McDonnell came to what may be the end (not counting appeals) when the former Virginia Governor was sentenced to serve two years in prison after a jury convicted him of bribery while in office.  As with many cases, this one has lessons to teach for those of us who carefully follow sentencing advocacy in federal criminal cases.

One lesson that we have observed before – but is worth repeating – is how powerful it can be to present a sentencing judge with written or spoken testimonials about the otherwise good character of the defendant. In the presentence report, the Probation Department had recommended an advisory sentencing range under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines of more than ten years, though the judge concluded that the proper advisory range was 6-1/2 to 8 years.  But the defense presented some 440 letters in support of the former Governor, as well as live testimony from a number of witnesses.  Even the Assistant United States Attorney, who asked for a harsh sentence to be imposed on Mr. McDonnell, conceded that the letters and testimony were moving.

That, of course, is the point: When a criminal defendant – especially one convicted by a jury that rejected his testimony – comes before a judge for sentencing, all that the judge knows about him is that he has committed a crime.  Letters and testimony help the defense to present the judge with a three dimensional human being, and facilitate the judge’s fuller consideration of the imposition of a fair and just sentence.  In the case of Rajat Gupta, Judge Jed Rakoff was moved by the letters of hundreds of supporters to sentence him to a two-year sentence despite prosecutors’ calls for a sentence of ten years in prison.  Here, Judge James Spencer was likewise motivated by evidence of Mr. McDonnell’s character to find that a sentence of eight years “would be unfair, it would be ridiculous, under these facts.”

But there is also a second lesson to be learned from Mr. McDonnell’s sentencing, and it is also one that is often repeated: No one is above the law, and indeed, we may hold our public officials to a higher moral standard in their conduct.  Judge Spencer’s comments at sentencing reflected this view: “A price must be paid,” he said. “Unlike Pontius Pilate, I can’t wash my hands of it all. A meaningful sentence must be imposed.” For that reason, among others, Judge Spencer rejected defense lawyers’ calls for a non-incarceration sentence that they had suggested, which could have included thousands of hours of community service.

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About Ifrah Law

Crime in the Suites is authored by the Ifrah Law Firm, a Washington DC-based law firm specializing in the defense of government investigations and litigation. Our client base spans many regulated industries, particularly e-business, e-commerce, government contracts, gaming and healthcare.

Ifrah Law focuses on federal criminal defense, government contract defense and procurement, health care, and financial services litigation and fraud defense. Further, the firm's E-Commerce attorneys and internet marketing attorneys are leaders in internet advertising, data privacy, online fraud and abuse law, iGaming law.

The commentary and cases included in this blog are contributed by founding partner Jeff Ifrah, partners Michelle Cohen and George Calhoun, counsels Jeff Hamlin and Drew Barnholtz, and associates Rachel Hirsch, Nicole Kardell, Steven Eichorn, David Yellin, and Jessica Feil. These posts are edited by Jeff Ifrah. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments!

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