Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Letters for White Collar Offenders

Oftentimes in white collar cases, the convicted individual will present letters in an attempt to convince the court to give a lenient sentence. (see here and here). There has been ample discussion about the value that should be afforded to letters written for white collar offenders.  Do they matter and should they?  Should the letters of the wonderful things that the accused did during his or her life cause a judge to reduce a sentence, and should they play any part in determining what that sentence will be?

The federal sentencing guidelines clearly try to move the system away from using these letters - the attempt to reach what I call a "classless sentencing system."  After all, will those who are less fortunate in society have the ability to secure numerous letters.

On the other hand, if a person has spent much of his or her life helping others, serving this country, or being a "good" person -- should that not be a value considered in sentencing. 

The issue of letters arose again this week, as a judge in Connecticut sentenced a defendant convicted of tax evasion (1.8 million) to 16 months in prison.  According to the Connecticut Post here, the judge stated that he had received more letters for the accused than in any other case. Yet, despite the letters, the judge felt that for the sake of general deterrence it was necessary to send the accused to prison. The defendant, a lawyer, faced additional penalty beside the jail time and fine in that he no longer will be practicing law.

On one hand you don't want to give a preference to those who can secure letters in support of a reduced sentence, when others may not be able to do so.  But, on the other hand, it should be equally important to recognize what a person has accomplished in their lifetime to better society.


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