Saturday, July 29, 2006

Commentary on Ebbers Decision

The Second Circuit ruling upholding the conviction and sentence of Bernard Ebbers is discussed here. As noted, the court states, "[t]wenty-five years is a long sentence for a white collar crime, longer than the sentences routinely imposed by many states for violent crimes, including murder, or other serious crimes such as serial child molestation."  The court decides to place the power with the legislature and uphold the sentence. What does this say:

  • In some cases money losses may be more important when it comes to determining a sentence, then loss of life.
  • The courts will take a hands off approach when determining reasonableness - the bottom line is that the federal sentencing guidelines still rule.
  • There is no fear of white collar sentences being overly lenient in a post-Booker world. 
  • Being a first offender doesn't mean much if the loss is high - the sentence basically ends up placing the convicted defendant in prison for the rest of his life.
  • If you decide to take the risk of trial and don't plead guilty and cooperate with the government, you may be spending the rest of your life in prison if the jury convicts you.

The more important questions here are: - Is this what Congress wanted? Have we gone overboard in sentencing white collar offenders?  Have we failed to consider the potential future harmfulness in sentencing white collar offenders?  Do we really need these extreme sentences to deter others who may be contemplating these crimes? Should being a first offender mean something when it comes to the sentence imposed?  And yes - should a white collar offender who commits an economic crime be receiving a greater sentence than someone who commits a murder?


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Tracked on Oct 30, 2006 6:24:39 PM


I have no difficulties with the sentencing theory that ranks some economic crimes higher on the punitive scale than murder.

But that is mere opinion.

Do you have a principled argument that the sentence for a crime which misused social compliance techniques should be lower than a crime which misued physical compliance techniques?

Posted by: Michael Webster | Jul 30, 2006 8:05:19 AM

"should a white collar offender who commits an economic crime be receiving a greater sentence than someone who commits a murder?"

Depends. Let's consider Lay (RIP) or Ebbers. If the fraud is significant/substantial enough and completely ruins hundreds of lives (significantly more lives than affected by a murder), then why not?

Also we are a hypocritical society if we claim to have a problem with it. If and when a family sues a murderer, the family, if they win, are awarded civil damages. The civil damages constitute in a warped way the value that we have put on that life. We value death all the time, e.g., civil damages and insurance payments. Compare that value with the amount of fraud. If a murderer is sentence to 7-10 years and liable for $1M, then Is it still that strange of a result?

Posted by: anon | Aug 3, 2006 3:13:32 PM

I just posed a response to many of your questions on my blog. In general, I have no problems with Ebbers' sentence, but think your questions expose some larger problems with sentencing.

FYI, I'm not a lawyer, but a criminologist (PhD), who just finished a book called _Class, Race, gender & Crime_.


Posted by: paul | Aug 6, 2006 7:41:28 AM

What differeance does it make if Ebbers gets 1 year or 50 years, I don't beleive he will serve one day in prison. His appeal was upheld but I don't see Ebbers behind bars. If it was the average Joe they would have been serving time while waiting on the appeals decision.

Posted by: Mark Foster | Aug 9, 2006 12:09:53 PM

I find this anonymous comment deeply disturbing because it reveals what it says about the value system of the commentator:

"Depends. Let's consider Lay (RIP) or Ebbers. If the fraud is significant/substantial enough and completely ruins hundreds of lives (significantly more lives than affected by a murder), then why not?"

Focus on the assertion that Lay or Ebbers frauds "completely ruined hundreds of lives". Can any financial fraud "ruin" any life? This question goes to the heart of our identities as individuals and our national identity. In the context of Victor Frankl's book, Man's Search for Meaning, how much of the value of life is tied up in stocks, professional position, and cash?

Wouldn't it be a relatively trivial life that could be ruined by financial wrongdoing of another? Have we perhaps forgotten who we are when we deprive a man of 25 years of family relationships as punishment for shading the truth about the value of his company's stock?

Posted by: Kurt | Aug 19, 2006 8:17:32 AM

This is a very interesting topic, white collar crime doers having a more severe punishment than those who murdered? Honestly, I’m quite undecided about it. I think it depends on the severity of the white collar crime. In my opinion, it is much more unforgivable to take someone life. That is against nature and I think murderers must have the heaviest punishment of them all. Well, that’s only my opinion though. I don’t have a PhD Criminology to dig anymore deeper. I’m glad that I came across your blog though. I hope I can read some other of your interesting works., I’ll be happy to read about it.

Posted by: PhD Criminology | Oct 10, 2010 11:25:13 PM

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