Saturday, June 24, 2006

One Day in Prison for Wal-Mart Executive

The Morning News in Arkansas reports here that Robert Hay, a former Wal-Mart executive, received a prison sentence of one day, six months supervised release and $3,000 fine. The plea was to three counts of wire fraud. One has to admit that this is a pretty light sentence, but then again his role was minimal in the events that led to this fraud.  (See also Wal*MartWatch here) Obviously a key aspect of this plea agreement was cooperation.  And Tom Coughlin, former Wal-Mart executive, has since plead guilty.  (see here)

This case emphasizes the power of the prosecution.  Prosecutors can offer "deals" that provide enormous benefits. Even when one knows that his or her role is minimal and there is the possibility of a "not guilty" of trial, they can't risk the trial.  If convicted at trial the sentence would likely be significantly higher, as most judges follow the sentencing guidelines.  With a plea and 5K1.1 motion, the accused has a sure thing - albeit a conviction. 

The question is whether prosecutors should have this amount of power?  With judges for the most part following the guidelines, those accused of crimes are left to cooperate with the government to secure the benefits even when they might be found not guilty if they risk a trial.  Are we really providing a right to a jury trial?  Should one be penalized greater just because they decide to exercise that right?


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