Commentary on Madoff's 150-Year Sentence
Yesterday, federal judge Denny Chin sentenced Bernie Madoff to 150 years in prison -- more than a life sentence. Though Madoff certainly wasn't popular (as blogger Scott Greenfield notes, not a single person sent the judge a letter in support of Madoff during sentencing), a 150-year sentence is still highly unusual. Several law bloggers attempt to explain the reason for the large sentence and its significance.
At his Sentencing Law Blog, Douglas Berman explains that the 150-year sentence departs from the recommended term of 50 years in the pre-sentencing report. He says the report likely recommended 50 years (a) to reflect Madoff's decision to plead guilty and avoid the cost of trial or (b) because it was double the 25 years given to Bernie Ebbers, who was involved in what was previously believed to be the biggest corporate fraud sentenced in New York. Nonetheless, the government advocated for the 150-year term -- the maximum permissible sentencing term -- and Chin apparently agreed because of the nature of Madoff's crime. As Berman notes, from Madoff's perspective, there's little practical difference between a 150-year sentence or a 25-year sentence because under either scenario, the 71-year-old Madoff will die in prison. The government has as a new benchmark for the prosecution of corporate crime, Berman says.
Ellen Podgor offers her perspective on the size of the sentence at White Collar Crime Prof Blog, suggesting it may be too harsh. Podgor writes that Madoff received no credit for remorse or pleading guilty, and that his sentence was "grounded in retribution" because Madoff was unlikely ever to exit prison as a free man, even under a shorter sentence. Finally, Podgor notes that the Madoff sentence doesn't resolve the underlying question of "How could this fraud
have gone on unnoticed for so long, and why did it take government
authorities 20 years to finally do something about it?"
Scott Greenfield echoes the points raised by Podgor and Berman regarding the retributive nature of the sentence and the impact it will have as benchmark in future cases. He also is critical of Madoff's lawyer, Ira Sorkin, writing:
Throughout the course of the Madoff defense, I've questioned what the heck the defense was thinking. Like most people, I would have guessed that Ike Sorkin had something up his sleeve that he would pull out at the moment it was needed. As it turns out, Sorkin came up empty. Totally, completely, utterly empty. His client copped to everything, got the max and will be remembered as one of nation's worst scoundrels.
At the risk of turning the comments section into the digitial equivalent of a prison's grafitti-flecked toilet stall, we invite your thoughts on the Madoff sentence. Please share them below.
Posted by Carolyn Elefant on June 30, 2009 at 02:59 PM | Permalink
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