Cunningham Asks for Leniency Because of Age

Corrupt former congressman Randy Cunningham has asked for leniency, citing his age and health.

Former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, who pleaded guilty to corruption on a scale unparalleled in the history of Congress, is asking a federal judge to spare him the maximum sentence.


Defense attorneys have asked for a sentence of six years in prison for the 64-year-old former Navy “Top Gun” flight instructor and Vietnam War flying ace. Given Cunningham’s age and history of prostate cancer, a 10-year sentence “would likely be a death sentence,” they said.

“His own misconduct has already left him penniless, homeless, estranged from those he loves and disgraced in the eyes of his countrymen,” Cunningham’s lawyers wrote in a sentencing memorandum.


The staggering details of Cunningham’s wrongdoing surpass anything in the history of Congress, Senate and House historians said. His bribes included a Rolls-Royce, a yacht, homes, travel, meals, Persian rugs valued at $40,000 each and various antique furnishings. “In the sheer dollar amount, he is the most corrupt,” said Deputy House Historian Fred W. Beuttler. “The scale of it is unprecedented.”

I have never understood why anyone would be persuaded by the “he’s old, so deserves leniency” argument. Indeed, it seems rather obvious that the older one is, the less leniency one deserves on the grounds that maturation has occured and the individual therefore knew better.

The better argument in Cunningham’s case is who he used to be: a geniune American hero.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Doesn’t leniency due to age translate either to an argument for a mandatory retirement age for Congressmen or a cattle call for corruption there (which would hardly seem necessary)?

  2. legion says:

    Frankly, his status as a legitimate American hero should also argue for greater punishment – his status gained him greater respect after his service, and his moral bankruptcy has an even greter ill effect on society than some random anonymous crook.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Dave and Legion: Good points, both.

    I do think that a lifetime of good work should be weighed in mitigation against even a most despicable act. But, yes, the fact that it was Cunningham diminishes the whole idea of heroes.