Former Massachusetts state senator Dianne Wilkerson is expected to receive her sentence date this week. Wilkerson pleaded guilty in June to eight counts of attempted extortion after she was caught on tape stuffing bribe money into her shirt and accused of taking $23,500 in bribes. She allegedly took eight cash payments from undercover FBI agents and a witness cooperating with the FBI in 2007 and 2008.
Prosecutors told the Boston Globe that they plan to ask for a four-year sentence, while Wilkerson’s lawyers have said that they plan to ask for less than the three years and two months suggested as the minimum in federal sentencing guidelines. They hope that the judge considers Wilkerson’s years of public service. The case’s status conference was scheduled for today by U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodluck.
When the judge ultimately determines Wilkerson’s sentence, he will likely consider her years of public service as her defense counsel hopes because 18 U.S.C. § 3553 requires judges to consider the history and characteristics of the defendant as well as the nature of the offense, the kinds of sentences available, the applicable sentencing range, and the need to avoid unwarranted sentence differences between defendants with similar records who’ve been found guilty of similar offenses. However, Wilkerson’s lawyers’ hope for a sentence less than the suggested minimum might be difficult to realize because statistically judges follow the sentencing guidelines(or depart from them at the request of prosecutors) in 85% of cases.
There are several possible reasons why judges follow these guidelines in such a substantial amount of cases. First of all, from 1987 through 2005 the “guidelines” were not really guidelines at all and were mandatory. The purpose was uniformity, but the problem was, among other things, inflexibility. In 2005, the United States Supreme Court held that mandatory guidelines violate the 6th Amendment, and now they are simply advisory. Nevertheless, a potential reason why judges follow them so often is that most of them were appointed since 1987 and have known nothing else. Secondly, judges might fear reversal. Finally, they might fear that if they depart from the guidelines, Congress might cabin their discretion even more than before. In light of all of this, it will be interesting to see whether the judge departs from the suggested minimum at the request of Wilkerson’s defense lawyers.
Sources: The Boston Globe, Judge to set Wilkerson’s sentencing date; The Boston Globe, Wilkerson admits she took $23,500
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