Jewish World Review March 22, 2004 / 29 Adar, 5764
Martha's doing us a service
http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Martha Stewart is calling on her friends to write testimonial letters to Judge Miriam Cedarbaum. She asks them to "please include your opinion of my character, my work ethic, my integrity and my probity."
I'm sure Cedarbaum will get many letters attesting to Stewart's character. I'm equally sure they won't matter. Martha Stewart is heading to prison. Federal rules call for her to serve 10 to 16 months.
Locking Stewart up is crazy. Her only crime was lying to federal investigators. That's wrong, but hey - the feds come around asking you questions, you might panic and fib, too. Especially if you felt (correctly) that you were getting set up to serve as an example of law-and-order prosecution.
Even if Cedarbaum agrees, she can't do anything about it. "Extraordinary circumstances" would permit her to give Stewart less than the guidelines require, but there are no such circumstances. Martha's good deeds and good character don't count. In fact, the rules specifically bar judges from considering a defendant's previous contributions to society.
Another means of sentence reduction is for the defendant to take "personal responsibility." But that usually applies only to people who admit their guilt. Stewart could have copped a plea. Instead she forced government to go to the trouble of convicting her. Post-trial contrition, even if it is genuine, won't keep her out of jail.
In a readers poll conducted by the New York Daily News, many people suggested that Stewart should do community service. After all, she actually has skills to offer. But under the current federal rules, which have been considerably tightened by the Bush administration, less restrictive confinement - including community service - is no longer a substitute for jail time.
Still, the Stewart case does provide an unintended service to the community. It shows how absurdly rigid the federal sentencing guidelines are. A lot of people in prison don't need to be there. The Stewart case calls attention to the problem in a dramatic way. And, while it may not be much comfort to Martha, that is potentially a good thing.
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