White Collar Criminal Sentences: How Long Is Too Much?
(Daniel Solove) An article in the New York Times discusses the debate over the increasingly long sentences for those convicted of white collar crimes:
Bernard J. Ebbers, the former chairman of WorldCom who was convicted of masterminding an $11 billion accounting fraud that bankrupted the company, was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Because Mr. Ebbers is 63, some have contended that the sentence amounts to a life term. Likewise, John J. Rigas, the 80-year-old founder of Adelphia Communications, was sentenced to 15 years.
“You have to ask yourself whether the proof in these cases warrants such a sentence,” said Otto G. Obermaier, a former United States attorney in Manhattan, who had been an aggressive prosecutor of white-collar crimes when he ran the office from 1989 to 1993. “Ebbers’s sentence moved the goal posts pretty far back. You can describe it as a pendulum switch, but it is an overreaction.” . . .
No lawyer is suggesting that white-collar criminals not serve time. Rather, lawyers and jurists are asking what the appropriate sentence is for white-collar crimes relative to punishments for other crimes in a post-Enron world.
The article continues with some quotes from Jonathan Simon (law, Boalt) who compares the punishments of white collar crimes to drug crimes and notes that “both represent increasingly irrational and inhumane levels of punishment.”
Quite frankly, I have a hard time feeling upset about the lengthy sentences being doled out to white collar criminals these days. For decades, those convicted of drug crimes have been sentenced to prison for extremely long periods of time, even for amounts of drugs with not a very high monetary value. In contrast, white collar crimes have often been punished lightly, in prisons that resemble boarding school.