Release Rod Blagojevich
July 13, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Governor-turned-prisoner Rod Blagojevich has a resentencing coming up, and he’s asking for a sentence that will substantially shorten his remaining time in custody:
Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich should get as little as five years in prison when he is resentenced on sweeping corruption charges next month, a move that would see him released from custody in months, his lawyers said in a court filing late Monday.
Federal prosecutors, meanwhile, asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to reinstate his original 14-year sentence for the former governor, writing in a filing posted one minute before the midnight deadline that public corruption must be deterred or it will continue to spread.
Most notable about that snippet may be the fact federal prosecutors were working until one minute before the midnight deadline. Did they not realize they had that deadline coming up for a while? Are they that much busier in Illinois than they are everywhere else? I’d be pretty surprised if they hadn’t made up their mind to not recommend what he got in the first place the moment the case got kicked back. Did it take them that long to think of a reason the judge should do what they want?
Hopefully they’re just procrastinators, but regardless, it would be pretty sad if the only thing they could think of to justify fourteen years was deterrence. They elaborated, at least:
“Public officials who gain from corrupt deals are incentivized to do more, and successes inspire other public officials to see if they can do it too,” federal prosecutors wrote.
That sort of deterrence argument is a darling of prosecutors everywhere. It’s also idiotic.
Saying that public corruption must be deterred or it will continue to spread presumes that public corruption is in fact spreading. Maybe prosecutors know something I don’t, but it seems like public corruption always has been and always will be a problem. It’s a bi-product of giving human beings power; many can’t handle it without abusing it, and some take that to the extreme.
Moreover, the deterrence argument also seems to generally suggest that the prosecutors view public officials as weak-willed, capricious, and fundamentally bad people who are likely to become corrupt en masse if only they had the opportunity. Perhaps they don’t realize that, at the end of the day, they’re accountable to one. Perhaps they also don’t realize that they’re arguing that to a judge who was selected in part thanks to the advice and consent of a bunch of public officials.
Prosecutors tend to get really worked up about ensuring there are sufficient incentives for the public in general, but they never seem nearly as concerned when it’s them or their bosses. They’re selfless, committed servants. Everyone else needs a carrot on a stick and someone waiting to catch them should they do something wrong.
The defense, on the other hand, makes a pretty good point when it comes to Blagojevich getting a reduced sentence:
In March, the Supreme Court declined to hear Blagojevich’s appeal of his 14-year prison sentence. A federal appeals court last year dismissed several counts against the former governor and ordered he be resentenced, but the three-judge panel called the evidence against him “overwhelming” and made it clear Zagel’s original sentence was not out of bounds. Blagojevich is scheduled to be resentenced Aug. 9.
Blagojevich’s lawyer, Leonard Goodman, told the Tribune earlier this year that he hoped Zagel would recognize that the 7th Circuit had dismissed some of the charges that specifically dealt with Blagojevich’s attempt to trade the Senate seat for a Cabinet post or other benefit for himself.
“These charges were the centerpiece of the case, the ones that would have Abraham Lincoln rolling over in his grave,” said Goodman, paraphrasing the words of then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald after Blagojevich was hit with the bombshell charges in 2008.
On one hand, there’s a pretty good argument that the judge presided over the trial, knew the facts, and gave Blagojevich a sentence consistent with that. Why should he change it?
On the other hand, the legal system rightfully tends to put a lot of weight on the actual conduct for which someone is convicted. Judges may be able to craft a sentence considering uncharged or even acquitted conduct, but it’s the sort of thing that bothers a lot of people, myself included. If fourteen years was the right sentence for all of the counts, then the right sentence for seven less shouldn’t be as harsh. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the judge still believes Blagojevich to be guilty of the dismissed counts and, with permission from the appellate court, imposes the same sentence again with that in mind even if he never comes right out and says it.
The prosecutor’s argument about incentives also falters a little in light of Blagojevich’s experience in custody:
Goodman has also said the ex-governor, known for his love of history, had been keeping busy behind bars by teaching Civil War history and other classes to fellow inmates. Blagojevich has also been singing in a prison band, The Jailhouse Rockers, although the band took a hiatus after the lead guitar player was released from custody.
Blagojevich’s activities behind bars could become a focal point of his resentencing. As part of his filing Wednesday, Goodman included letters from more than 100 inmates in the Littleton, Colo., prison camp describing Blagojevich as kind, a mentor and a man with the utmost respect for the law.
Prison sucks, but it doesn’t seem to suck as bad for Blagojevich as it does for most. He’s teaching something he loves, singing in a band, and apparently making friends and influencing people. He wouldn’t be asking to get out if it was such a great time overall, but what does making the guy continue to do that stuff for another bunch of years really accomplish? I can just see some other governor teetering on the brink of corruption saying to himself, “hmm, when Blagojevich destroyed his name and his career and got fourteen for corruption, I was definitely not going to go that route, but now that he’s only destroyed his name and career and got five, maybe I will take that bribe after all.”
That’s really the big problem. We’re numb to just how big numbers like five years in prison really are. It’s half a decade. He’s already done that. It’s also half a decade of teaching history, singing in a band, and mentoring other people stuck in the same facility on the public dime. We’re spending that money for no other reason than the fact inflation seems to apply to prison sentences just like it does to money.
Unless there’s some other great reason that didn’t make the article, it’s time to release Rod Blagojevich. Maybe it’s already past the time to release him.