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Prior Good Acts Yield Lesser Sentence

When it comes to sentencing, it sometimes seems that last-minute remorse, in the form of cooperation with prosecutors (case in point -- Enron's Andy Fastow and his six-year sentence) buys more leniency than a long history of good deeds. But one District of Columbia Superior Court judge, Ricardo Urbina, takes a different approach. In sentencing local businessman Douglas Jemal on one count of wire fraud (a jury acquitted him on corruption and tax evasion charges), Judge Urbina gave Jemal five years of probation and a $175,000 fine, but no jail time, as reported in this article from the Washington Post (4/18/07). But what's interesting was Urbina's rationale for the sentence. After considering 200 letters from Jemal's supporters, citing good deeds ranging from helping homeless get back on their feet to providing meeting space to the local police department, Urbina concluded that Jemal's past generosity warranted a lesser sentence. The Post article summarized Urbina's rationale:

The judge said he compared two disparate groups in reaching his decision: convicted felons-turned-cooperators for whom prosecutors urge reduced sentences and community members who attested that Jemal's generosity changed their lives.  "They have committed numerous, numerous crimes," Urbina said of the informants. "They have lived such a corrupt life that it now helps them buy their way out of trouble."  By contrast, Jemal had demonstrated a genuine selflessness, he said, helping homeless men get work, giving plane tickets to poor workers for family visits, even giving his beloved dog to a woman suffering mental anguish.  One thing is clear: Mr. Jemal has devoted much of his adult life to good, charitable causes," Urbina said. "When I compare the valuable and worthwhile services [repeat offenders] provide to society and I see what Mr. Jemal has done over the course of his lifetime, it is inconceivable to me that I should impose the penalty proposed here. . . . Being fair means being fair."

Doug Berman at Sentencing Law and Policy Blog picks up on this story, as does White Collar Crime Blog, which commends Urbina for "recognizing that an individual who decides to go to trial should not be punished simply by making this choice. If cooperation can yield probation, then perhaps asserting one's constitutional right to a jury trial should also allow for probation." As Judge Urbina expresses, this boils down to fairness. If sentencing guidelines allow for consideration of prior bad acts, why not prior "good acts" as well?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on April 18, 2007 at 06:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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