Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell Sentenced To Two Years In Prison
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who was potentially facing as much as 10-12 years in prison based on his conviction on corruption charges last year, found himself on the receiving end of a significant break today when he was sentenced to two years in Federal Prison:
A federal judge sentenced former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell to two years in prison Tuesday — a term far lower than what prosecutors had sought and one that means the popular politician will be free before his 63rd birthday.
U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer said he was moved by the outpouring of support for McDonnell, the governor’s military service, and the facts of the case, though he could not ignore the jury’s verdict.
“A price must be paid,” Spencer said. “Unlike Pontius Pilate, I can’t wash my hands of it all. A meaningful sentence must be imposed.”
The penalty is a win for defense attorneys, who had asked that the former governor be sentenced to mere community service even as prosecutors initially advocated for a prison term stretching longer than a decade. They later asked that McDonnell spend 6 and a half years behind bars.
While McDonnell’s family members cried softly, the former governor stood with no visible reaction as the sentence was delivered. Afterward, he gave long hugs to several of his children and a quick peck on the cheek to his wife.
The U.S. probation office had determined that federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of incarceration between 10 years and a month and 12 years and seven months. Spencer on Tuesday determined a range of 6 and a half years to eight years and a month was more appropriate, but said even that “would be ridiculous, under these facts.”
Spencer ordered the former governor to report to prison on Feb. 9. He did not immediately rule on a request from McDonnell to keep his freedom even longer, until all his appeals are adjudicated.
Prosecutors had urged Spencer to craft a sentence that took into consideration the “enormous power” of the governor’s office and the extent to which McDonnell abused that power. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Dry said in court Tuesday that McDonnell’s misdeeds were “crimes of choice, not necessity,” and that he had “shown no true remorse in this case for these crimes.”
“These crimes are unprecedented in Virginia’s 226 year history,” Dry said.
For their part, defense attorneys dismissed the notion that McDonnell blamed others and highlighted the good he had done in the military, in public office and even in his personal life. In filings accompanied by more than 440 letters from supporters, defense attorneys argued that McDonnell’s family had suffered enough through a trial that put their personal failings on public display. The McDonnells’ ordeal alone, defense attorneys said, was enough to deter any public official from making similar decisions.
Defense attorneys argued that several charitable organizations could benefit from McDonnell’s skills and urged the judge to allow him to work for one of them instead of imposing the “extreme and unjustified” prison term requested by prosecutors. That penalty, they said, would allow McDonnell “to spend the next three years of his life helping the poor and the needy and repaying the debt to society that he has incurred here.”
“He has suffered personal, professional, and financial consequences that will haunt him for the rest of his life,” defense attorneys wrote. “Sending Mr. McDonnell to prison at all, much less for the length of time the Government requests, would only exacerbate the punishment being suffered by the McDonnell family with no corresponding public policy benefit.”
McDonnell’s attorneys say that they still intend to appeal the verdict in the case, and I suspect that the Judge will grant an appropriate motion from McDonnell to continue his bail while that appeal is pending, so it seems unlikely that he’ll actually be going to Federal Prison on February 9th. In any case, though, I think that Judge Spencer probably erred on the side of justice here in showing some leniency to the former Governor. There was no evidence presented at trial that McDonnell’s crimes involved the misuse or misdirection of public funds, and indeed he ended up returning all the money that he had received from the businessman at the center of this bizarre tale. As for the rest of it, his political career is obviously over, he is going to lose his license to practice law due to his conviction if that hasn’t happened already, and he’s not likely to serve in position of public trust ever again. I’m not sure that putting him in Federal Prison, even minimum security prison, for six to eight years seems like it would have been something of an overreaction to me.
In any case, next up in this case other than McDonnell’s likely appeal will be Maureen McDonnell’s sentencing before the same Judge on February 20th. While Judge Spencer is not bound by his decision today in deciding on an appropriate sentence for Virginia’s former First Lady, the factors there seem to be the same as they are here. Some kind of prison sentence is appropriate, but something long seems like it would be overly harsh under the circumstances. If anything, I suspect that Mrs. McDonnell will end up getting a slightly shorter sentence than her husband, though it’s also likely she’ll end up with basically the same sentence. Obviously, given the state of their marriage, they’d be unlikely to serve their sentences together in any case.