The quality of mercy is not strained, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blest:It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown...
But mercy is above this sceptred sway,
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's,
Portia, Merchant of Venice.
Many times (but not too many) in our fabled career, we have been called upon to beseech those that wear black robes to dispense both mercy and justice.
Lately, there has been commentary in the media about the 23 month sentence Michael Vick received. We have read and heard sports commentators and media figures state that while they believe Vick needed to be punished, his punishment, which caused Vick the loss of a 50 million dollar contract, was too severe. In essence, what they are saying is that because of what Vick lost, which is more than the average individual, his punishment exceeded what was necessary.
Our thoughts on this are mixed. However, what occurs to us is that people criticizing the sentence have no experience with clients being sent to prison (which unfortunately we do in those rare cases that our pleas before a jury fall on deaf ears).
Even the slightest prison sentence usually results in an individual losing their job, placing their house in jeopardy, and a hardship in economic and social matters beyond the months served. Basically everyone loses money and work and has career problems after going to prison. With privilege and great wealth comes responsibility, which Vick did not demonstrate.
Should the Judge have sentenced Mr. Vick to less time because Vick stood to lose significantly more than the average defendant? We say no. While personal considerations should be relevant in sentencing, business considerations rarely should affect a Judge’s decision to lessen a sentence. Mr. Vick ruthlessly participated in abusing and killing animals. If the collateral consequence of his sentence is that besides being incarcerated he loses 50 million dollars and years during a playing career that cannot be recaptured, so be it.
It was not that long ago when professional athletes were drafted into the armed service and sent to war. Ted Williams lost at least five years of professional baseball when he served his country as a front line fighter pilot during WWII and the Korean War. There are some things, perhaps many things, more important than an athletic career. We say this even though we recognize that athletic careers today, with the potential to earn over a hundred million dollars are vastly more lucrative than athletic careers were up through the 1970’s.
The only value we see in the Vick discussion is the value in understanding that incarceration is a severe form of punishment. To the extent the Vick saga lessens the general public’s appetite for the “lock em up and throw away the key” approach to criminal law, that is a good thing. But Vick deserves every day of the sentence he received, and we hope he feels in someway the pain and misery he has caused.
See you in court, where because of this blog and our big mouth, we can no longer wow Judges with our memorized recital of Portia’s elegant speech.
JUSTICE BUILDING BLOG
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