The 24-year prison term imposed last week on a Houston former executive in a corporate crime case is prompting more debate about the severity of white-collar-crime sentences. The sentence was based partly on the sum lost by investors.
The Christian Science Monitor notes that many experts say federal sentencing guidelines created in the 1980s corrected a two-tier system in which judges often let white-collar criminals walk away with probation because they were from a “good family” or had done charitable work. “The guidelines basically said white-collar crime no longer gets white-collar time,” says Paul Fiorelli of the Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility at Xavier University in Cincinnati.
David Gerger, a defense lawyer in the Houston case, said, “The sentencing system is broken. It has not produced uniformity…. It deprives judges of discretion that they need to give fair sentences.”
If white-collar sentences begin to look out of proportion, it would not surprise Paul Robinson, a University of Pennsylvania law professor who was involved in creating the guidelines but objected to their final form. There is a tendency to focus on the “crime du jour,” he says, and it’s rare that people look at the bigger picture and compare sentences for different kinds of crimes.