August 26, 2007

Ookie's Day in Court


So tomorrow Ookie (aka Michael Vick) heads 80 miles up the road from his hometown to plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges. On an interesting sidebar, I'll also be in court tomorrow in line to get a marriage license. Oddly, both Ookie's appearance and my appearance in court will involve bitches. Emily, dear, it's just a joke.

But anyway, Roger Cossack (Prediction: J-Red will take his job by force within the next ten years) gave a pretty thorough rundown of what to expect tomorrow on Sportscenter this morning. For the benefit of our readers, here is the combined Cossack/Jeremy analysis of what you'll see in court tomorrow:

1) Case is called. Vick appears with his fleet of attorneys.

2) Judge Hudson asks if everyone is ready to go forward, and asks if it's still Vick's intention to plead guilty. At this point, Hudson will thoroughly voir dire (lawyerspeak for "question") Vick to make sure that he is pleading guilty knowingly and voluntarily because he is in fact guilty of the charges against him, and to make sure that he is satisified with his representation. This occurs in every guilty plea, and generally serves as a checkmate to any post-conviction relief that the Defendant could seek a few months down the line by saying "My attorney was shitty" or "I didn't know what I was doing when I pleaded guilty."

3) Judge Hudson will also ask Vick if there have been any promises made to him to get him to plead guilty. At this point, the Assistant United State's Attorney would note to the judge that there is a plea agreement whereby the government has promised Vick that they would seek a 12-18 month sentence, which is the amount that federal sentencing guidelines would call for. Judge Hudson will advise Vick that this is a non-binding plea, that the federal sentencing guidelines are discretionary, and that he could impose up to the five-year statutory maximum for the crime Vick is pleading guilty to.

4) Judge Hudson (or at least his clerk) will have already perused the full plea agreement that has been filed and was leaked to ESPN. However, on the record, he'll have to hear a proffer from the state of what they would prove if they had gone to trial. So here, the Assistant U.S. Attorney will briefly summarize the facts that Vick is pleading guilty to, just enough to prove that the elements of the crime of conspiracy to commit dogfighting have been proven. In other words, the AUSA can read aloud the entire plea agreement if he/she chooses, or can just summarize it in a way that shows that Vick has committed the crime he's pleading guilty to.

5) Judge Hudson will then ask Vick's attorneys if there are any "material" additions or corrections to what the AUSA has just stated. Material = "Hey, you're wrong and my client didn't do that and you can't prove the crime." In other words, doesn't often happen.

6) Judge Hudson will then accept Vick's guilty plea and Vick will stand convicted of the charges against him.

Sentencing has been set for a few months down the line. Tomorrow, after Vick has been found guilty, the government may seek to increase Vick's bond, because he now doesn't enjoy the benefit of being innocent of charges. The purpose of bond now would be to make sure that Vick doesn't abscond before sentencing, and the higher the flight risk, the higher the bond. While Vick doesn't face that much time in jail, the government will likely argue for a very high bond because Vick certainly has the resources to skip town if he wanted to. Not likely that Vick would skip town, but he'll still face a high bond, of which he would have to pay a small percentage to remain free pending sentencing. The remainder he would forfeit and owe to the United States if he doesn't appear at sentencing.

Between tomorrow and sentencing, both Vick's attorneys, and the government attorneys, will submit lengthy sentencing memoranda to Judge Hudson to try to persuade Hudson to go along with the bargained-for sentence within the guidelines range of 12-18 months. It's obvious why Vick's attorneys want the lower sentence. The government would also want the bargained-for sentence, as they lose credibility with criminal defendants if they can't convince judges to abide by plea bargains. Remember... plea bargains benefit the government sometimes as much, if not more so, than they benefit the Defendant. There will also be a presentence report prepared by a federal probation officer to assist Judge Hudson in sentencing. This report will take into account all of the facts, will thoroughly research Vick's criminal and personal history, and will present an independent recommendation to Judge Hudson for a sentence, including jail, probation, and/or fines.

What will Judge Hudson do? Well, most people think he will go along with the plea bargain and sentence to the guidelines of 12-18 months. I think this is highly dependent on how convincing the State is in their sentencing memoranda and just how much Vick cooperates with the government between now and his sentencing date, which he has agreed to do. Yes, Ookie is a snitch.

Why at first blush do I personally think that Judge Hudson will depart from the guidelines range of 12-18 months and give Vick a 2-3 year sentence? Look to page 352 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines under "Extreme Conduct."

"If the defendant’s conduct was unusually heinous, cruel, brutal, or degrading to the victim, the court may increase the sentence above the guideline range to reflect the nature of the conduct."

While the examples of such conduct normally involve human victims, I think that Vick's admitted participation in the execution of dogs rises to the level of "heinous, cruel [and] brutal." I'm sure that we'll hear much more about an expected sentence from the pundits and talking heads over the coming weeks. Tomorrow is purely the guilty plea.

7 Responses:

J-Red said...

Well explained sir. Sounds like the federal plea bargain procedure is not so different from the state, except for the guidelines and probie report.

Anonymous said...

heard that vick will most likely have to pay back 22 million to back to the Falcons for not being able to fullfill his obligation to the team...or better known has getting the boot. How will his lawyers handle this matter? guesses?

Jeremy said...

Right now Vick has retained William (Billy) Martin, who specializes in high-profile criminal defense. I have a feeling Martin would have to refer Vick either to another associate, or to another firm, to defend him in any action the Falcons bring against him, as the grounds for that would stem from a breach of contract, something that Martin does not specialize in. Bottom line is Vick will most likely try to cross one bridge at a time. Also, given how long a civil suit takes to make its way through the courts, it would be some time before Vick would have to seriously worry about defending the suit, even if it were filed tomorrow.

J-Red said...

The NFLPA has to represent Vick in his impending signing bonus dispute because it falls under the collective bargaining agreement.

Anonymous said...

what I find amusing in this whole story is the fact that vick seems to think that not betting on the dog fights is better than killing, setting up the fights and bank rolling the money is better than not actually betting on the fights itself. At least we know where this guy's head is. God bless his lawyers, it takes a special type of person to represent this man in this case!

J-Red said...

Gambling, especially if Vick took a house cut (10% or so) of all the action, would be a lifetime NFL ban for Vick, and he knows that. He's getting the time, but he wants to be able to earn a living afterwards.

Anonymous said...

in my opinion, people will turn a blind eye to a player drinking, doing drugs, (steriods), cheating or beating his wife....that is part of everyday life. but when it comes to hurting an animal, people can't blink on this one. I don't care if he loses all his endorsements and is suspended from play, killing an animal is againist the law and he should be made an example of

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