Deterrence, Retribution or Rehabilitation?

From the New York Times:

On Monday, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, sentenced a former senior pharmaceutical executive to write a book.

Earlier this year the executive had pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the federal government about the company’s efforts to resolve a patent dispute over the blood thinner Plavix.

So as part of his federal misdemeanor probation, the defendant must write a book. About what, and for what purpose?

The judge sentenced Dr. Bodnar to two years of probation during which he is to write a book about his experience connected to the case…

In the sentencing hearing on Monday, Judge Urbina said he would like to see Dr. Bodnar write a book about the Plavix case as a cautionary tale to other executives.

I’m all for creative sentencing, at least as far as it leads to probation rather than prison, and especially for non violent offenses. Seems the judge’s argument is for deterrence: the defendant’s tale is a cautionary one for other executives tempted to be untruthful during federal investigations.

Infinity Ranch has a more humorous perspective:

As a writer, the idea that a judge would equate writing a book with punishment is kind of disappointing.

But on the other hand, there are probably dozens of things most people enjoy doing that I'd consider punishment.

Watching an entire season of American Idol on DVD, for instance. Might plead the Eighth Amendment on that one.

As a criminal defense lawyer, IR’s instincts are to assume that all sentencing considerations are punitive, or doled out for retribution. No argument with the gut reaction, go to court for awhile representing the accused and that’ll be your assumption after a while as well.

But allow me to suggest this particular condition of probation is best categorized under the most forgotten and least utilized reason for punishment, at least as federal sentencing is concerned: rehabilitation.

Is there a better way to learn from your mistakes than to think about them? And can you think about something, anything, more than when you write about the subject?

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Salvia divinorum - July 19, 2009 2:16 AM

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Long Beach Criminal Attorney - August 8, 2009 1:41 PM

There is little doubt that some judges are out for retribution while others fashion themselves rehabilitationists. This particular case sends the wrong message to criminal defendants.

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