Last week, the Boston legal community had alittle excitement which spread from Capitol Hill to the United States District Court. That’s right, the federal one.
Many people are still debating it and question whether it should have happened. As for me, although I had not had a chance to blog on it yet, I was interviewed on WBZ radio (1030 on your a.m. dial). That interview, incidently, can be found here.
In case you had not heard, former state Senator. Dianne Wilkerson pleaded guilty to eight counts of attempted extortion and now faces up to four years in jail when she’s sentenced this fall.
Ms. Wilkerson had been arrested in October 2008, prior to leaving the State House office she held for six terms, on indictments alleging she pocketed $23,500 in bribes between 2002 and 2008, including $1,000 she was photographed stuffing in her bra at an upscale Beacon Hill restaurant.
The Roxbury Democrat was to go on trial June 21. Thinking better of it as time grew shorter, she came to an agreement with the federal prosecutors and, last week, she pleaded guilty.
The defense filed for a change of plea in the federal corruption case, admitting to the charges during a 45 minute hearing in U.S. District Court in Boston. She is due back in September for sentencing. She remains free on no bail until that date.
As part of her plea agreement, the related charges to which she has not admitted guilt will be dismissed. Federal officials have reserved the right to argue for a four-year prison sentence.
“Citizens place extraordinary trust in their elected officials, and it is those citizens who have been harmed by Ms. Wilkerson’s criminal conduct the most,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “Today’s conviction should send a message that justice, and jail time, will be sought for those who violate that trust. We will continue to aggressively pursue elected officials who abuse their official position for personal gain.”
Co-defendant Charles “Chuck” Turner is scheduled for trial October 12. He has gone on record stating that he remains ready for trial.
“Whatever she’s pled to has nothing whatsoever to do with my case because I am innocent…I’m looking forward to trial to prove that my indictment was a charade”
There are those who are still debating whether the plea bargain should have been allowed. They argue that such a plea deal gets the defendant off the hook on too many charges and that side-stepping the trial deprives people the “showdown of justice” they wanted to see played out in open court.
While hearing the defense debate the defendant’s curious doggie-bag, potentially claiming that it was housed in the unusual location because she wanted to keep it “warm”, plea deals “rob” courtroom spectators of such shows every day.
No doubt, you have often heard that such arrangements are a “necessary evil” because of our overloaded court system.
Not to get into a long and protracted argument about the virtues and vices of plea bargains, I would suggest that, even were the courts not overloaded, the availability of plea bargains has other inherent positives as well. For example, we tend to teach our children that they should “fess up” when they do something wrong. Should we not value that in the courts? Further, do we not want some kind of compassion in the justice system so that when a person makes a mistake they can try to voluntarily start making it right?
On the other hand, to some, vengeance is the only reason for criminal prosecution.
Federal cases are seldom brought to trial unless the prosecution, after, often, months or years of investigation, is very confident that they will obtain a conviction. As I have pointed out in this blog before, federal prosecutors often throw out a large net, often capturing the guilty with the not-so guilty. Often, this is done as a method of securing otherwise reluctant witnesses. However, when all the dust settles and trial is a looming reality, while there may be some extra fish left in the net, there is likely to be a conviction ahead more the primary target.
White collar cases, like this one, are usually the result of a long-standing Grand Jury investigation during which documents and witnesses are paraded before the jurors with little to no evidence that puts the target(s) in a favorable light.
There is an old adage which says that a prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich. This is generally true. Jurors often do what the prosecutor asks them to do. After all, there are no judges or defense attorneys in the Grand Jury.
Federal prosecutors, however, do not indict such fast food. They go for the alleged criminal filet. And they seldom move forward on the case unless it is “well done”.
In federal court, plea negotiations are more complicated than in state court. This is largely because of the federal sentencing guidelines. While these guidelines sometimes make it more difficult for a defendant to get the deal he or she wants, it does give credit for aspects outside of the factual allegations underpinning the convictions which, most people, would agree, should be taken into account. Of course, they also take into account items that people such as I would say is unfair. An example of this is the consideration of alleged criminal deeds for which the defendant was acquitted or never charged.
This might be more fair if federal investigations were more pure in their seeking of the “truth”. Unfortunately, as is the case with their state counter-parts, investigations often arrive at their “truth” long before the investigation results are all in. At trial, we tell juries not to come to such conclusions until they hear all the evidence.
It is a shame that law enforcement does not often adhere to that belief.
As you might have gathered, getting pulled into a federal prosecution, or, actually, any prosecution, is like being pulled into a whirlwind that has its own rules and procedures and within which you do not have very much control. The best way to have any control is to have at your side an experienced defense attorney who knows the landscape and understands its reasoning…or what passes for such a thing. My advice remains to get one of these as early as possible…during the investigation if at all possible…to best protect yourself.
Should you wish to contact me for a free consultation, please feel free to do so by calling (617) 206-1942.
To view the story upon which today’s blog is based, please go to http://www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1259158