Sunday, September 24, 2006
Bernard Ebbers will begin serving a 25 year sentence this week. The Washington Post here notes comments on this upcoming sentence, including a comment by Professor Frank Bowman stating that "[m]y own sense is that any sentence over 20 years for anybody for an economic crime is hard to justify."
So why is it that a man with no prior criminal record was given a sentence of 25 years for a non-violent crime? The bottom line is the federal sentencing guidelines. The effect of these guidelines is to rachet up the sentences for white collar offenses. The sentence is computed to a large extent based upon fraud loss. The character of the offender, the lack of prior criminal history, and rehabilitation are basically thrown out the window when courts look at a mathematical forumula that looks solely at the amount of fraud loss, a number that can rarely ever be computed with precision (see Olis). Anyone who contends that we need to worry about the discretion judges have in this post-Booker world, need only watch Ebbers as he goes off to prison.