Felicity Huffman and the discretion in our criminal justice system

“Felicity Huffman sentenced to 14 days in prison in nationwide college admissions scandal” (Salon) provides a good illustration of how much discretion there is for the people who run our criminal justice system:

The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, but prosecutors said they recommended a sentence at the “low end” of the range — between four and 10 months — for the actress. They also recommended a fine of $20,000 and 12 months of supervised release.

In other words, if either the prosecutor or the judge had disliked Ms. Huffman for any reason, she could have been imprisoned for 20 years (longer than a typical murderer). Or, on the other hand, it might have been no prison/jail time if everyone showed up to court in a great mood. Or perhaps 14 days or any other number of days between 0 and 7,305.

Posted in Law

7 thoughts on “Felicity Huffman and the discretion in our criminal justice system

  1. The mind boggles. If you’re going to do a conspiracy in the US, be sure to setup a “business” staffed with clever folks. No doubt what she did was wrong and terrible. But the damages are what? Meanwhile, zero prison or legal consequences for any of the thousands of geniuses in multiple industries who framed and profited handsomely from the 2007 financial crisis, which unarguably devastated the country. Yay for capitalism. Businesses creating “value” can do no wrong in the eyes of the law.

  2. This 20 year figure does not sound right. A “conspiracy” is simply an agreement to commit an underlying crime, here likely wire or mail fraud, i.e., mailing in a phony application or dishonest phone call or whatever. She pleaded guilty so guilt or innocence was not at issue just sentencing. The sentence for this kind of crime at least when i paid attention to this stuff is mostly a function of the “amount of the loss.” Here there is likely no loss so the sentence could be zero — notwithstanding her admitted guilt. It does not make sense that this woman faced a possible 20 year sentence for what she did. I think most reasonable people would think that 14 days jail time is about the lower bound and a year would be on the high side. The big numbers for jail time are typically headlined by ignorant journalists or the prosecutor’s office because multiple counts are added together when in fact they are typically served concurrently. So she was probably charged with multiple counts & pleased guilty to one count or something.

  3. What I don’t understand is how this came to pass in the first place. Isn’t it completely legal to call up a University’s donor relations office and say “Our daughter _____ is so passionate about (sociology, media studies, whatever) that she has spent the last few months researching schools and their programs and decided that yours is the best. Her enthusiasm has, in fact, infected us and we were wondering if there is anything we can do to help students benefit from this terrific program. Our family has been quite fortunate and we are looking for ways to contribute with both our time and financially…” Then a little asterisk goes on her application and she gets in on the wait list. @philg is that not something that happens anymore?

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