Monday, July 25, 2011

Out-of-control Fraud Guidelines

That's the headline to this National Law Journal article by FAMM Vice President Mary Price and defense attorney James Felman.

Did you know that federal drug sentences aren't the only ones that are out of control to the point of absurdity?  In the federal system, the type and amount of drugs determines the sentence.  The person's intent, circumstances, role in a drug conspiracy, or drug dependency don't matter.  Fraud crime guidelines are similar -- the amount of money lost sets the sentence, and it doesn't matter if the defendant wasn't in charge, didn't receive much benefit from the crime, or was only involved in the offense for a short time.

Sentences for economic crimes have been increasing over the years, sending nonviolent people to prison for decades or even life -- at taxpayer expense.  Is it worth it?  Is it fair?  Here's one example:

A little more than a year ago, Sholom Rubashkin, a 51-year-old father of 10 with deep roots in his Iowa community and no prior criminal record, was sentenced to serve 27 years in prison following his conviction on financial fraud charges. Remarkably, that sentence looks lenient compared to the sentence prosecutors originally urged: life without parole. The attention garnered by the U.S. Department of Justice's initial sentencing position, as evidenced by a letter to the sentencing judge from six former U.S. attorneys general (joined by former senior Justice Department officials and former judges), has waned during the past year. But Rubashkin's sentence should not be quickly forgotten because it stands as a stark example of the disproportionate and draconian punishments that result from the broken fraud sentencing guidelines.
Not long ago, first-time perpetrators of economic crimes frequently received sentences of probation with special conditions for compensating their victims. Lengthy prison sentences for nonviolent financially motivated offenders were correctly deemed unnecessary. The purposes of sentencing could be accomplished without removing them from society for extended periods of time. These offenders suffer a multitude of unique collateral consequences, including the all-but-certain end to their careers, and the social stigma of a steep and public fall from grace.*
What do you think are appropriate punishments for people committing economic crimes?  Leave your answer in a comment.

* Reprinted with permission from the July 26, issue of the National Law Journal © 2011 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

6 Comments:

FluffyRoss said...

When you're talking about some of these out-of-control sentences, you're also talking about out-of-control federal prosecutors AND judges, to wit: Judge Linda Reade and her fellow, the woman prosecutor in that Rubashkin case.

ruthie warner said...

I FEEL LIKEIF THERE WAS VIOLENCE OR SOMEONE TREATED SEVERLY ,PLUS A LOT OF MONEY TAKEN FROM SOMEONE IN THE DEAL A PRISON STAY OF NO MORE THAN 6-9 MO IS ENOUGH TO BE AWAY FROM FAMILY ESPECIALLY IF YOUNG ONES OR TEENS ARE IN THE HOME

Anonymous said...

Fraud sentences of many years seem to be the most senseless of all. What we want as a society is for victims to be restored to their original position before the crime. How will fraud victims ever be repaid if the criminal is in prison?? Garnish their wages, force them to repay what they took but why force the taxpayers to pay for their room and board for years when they could support themselves and repay their victims?

Anonymous said...

House arrest is very confining and a very substantial punishment for non-violent offenders and a sensible alternative to prison. It's inappropriate to impose upon people who were never violent to spend chunks of thier lives living together with violent people. White collar and drunk driving offenders would belong in this category. Drunk drivers are technically innocent and house arrest would effectively prevent further incidents of drunk driving. I'd exclude drug offenders, however, because drugs cause deliberate physical harm, and house arrest would free them to easily commit additional drug crimes.

Prison could be resorted to when house arrest is violated.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add:
It's unconstitutional to try and stamp out fraud by reacting with cruel and unusual punishment. The civilized way to deal with it, in addition to REASONABLE punishment, is by educating lenders how to detect it in advance. Call it "the red flags of fraud". In every case of fraud, someone voluntarily handed over the money.

SentenceSpeak said...

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments on this post! We're very interested to hear people's thoughts on appropriate sentences for white collar offenders.