When U.S. District Judge Denny Chin sentenced Bernard Madoff to the maximum possible sentence of 150 years in prison for his huge Ponzi scheme, there were claps and cheers from victims in the courtroom. The judge said victims’ statements and 113 letters filed with the federal court influenced his sentencing decision, reports the Wall Street Journal. Nine victims spoke in court yesterday to tell their stories of financial devastation. (The Associated Press reported today that 10 more people may be charged in the Madoff case.)
Victim speeches are a relatively new aspect of white-collar criminal sentencings. Jayne Barnard, a professor at William & Mary Law School in Williamsburg, Va., wrote a 2001 article arguing that all victims of federal crimes, not just violent offenses, should be able to present victim-impact testimony prior to sentencing. The article helped lead to 2004’s Crime Victims Rights Act, which gives victims of all federal crimes, including economic fraud, the right to speak at sentencing. Barnard and others had argued that many fraud victims also suffered emotionally and socially.