Was Martha Stewart’s five-month prison term, which includes a five-month house arrest, two years’ probation, and a $30,000 fine, too lenient, perhaps evidence that the rich get off more easily? Or was it too tough, given the nature of the crime and the fact she is a first-time offender? The Christian Science Monitor asks these questions, which will be debated for years.
Critics of the criminal justice system point to the fat wallets of white-collar felons, who sometimes end up with electronic bracelets around their ankles while they shuffle around their homes in slippers. Defenders of the system claim that judges are actually harder on white-collar types, who often don’t get the proverbial “second chance” no matter who is defending them. This argument is likely to resonate in other high-profile trials, such as those of Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Kenneth Lay, former head at Enron. “There is no doubt that the justice system has never found a way to even the field when some lawyers are better than others and some defendants have more money to hire them,” says Larry Soderquist, a Nashville lawyer. Herb Hoelter, Stewart’s sentencing consultant, who advises many nonviolent offenders, finds that nonwhite-collar defendants often get a “second chance.” “I think the judges are tougher on white-collar criminals,” he says. In Stewart’s case, prosecutor Karen Patton Seymour, after Stewart’s team suggested community service or house arrest, said, “Ms. Stewart is asking for leniency far beyond what ordinary people who are convicted of these crimes would receive under sentencing guidelines.”