THE BLOG
03/31/2016 11:38 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Here's Why Blago's 14-Year Prison Sentence Should Be Reduced

OPINION

Tuesday's Reboot Illinois Daily Tip-Off email contained a mention of the Chicago Sun-Times editorial headlined, "Time to rethink Blago's prison time," which advocated for reducing former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's 14-year sentence.

Blagojevich is due to be re-sentenced after a federal appeals court threw out five of his 18 convictions last summer and, on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal that all 18 convictions be vacated. The Sun-Times editorial prompted this response from a Daily Tip-Off subscriber:

"Apparently the editorial piece writer on former Gov Rod doesn't understand what a deterrent is meant to do - stupid folks need stronger measures."

That reader is not alone. The Chicago Tribune, in its editorial following the Supreme Court denial, hinted at advocating a longer sentence for the unrepentant Blagojevich:

(T)he 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ... noted that the evidence against Blagojevich was "overwhelming" and that "it is not possible to call (a sentence of) 168 months unlawfully high." That leaves open the possibility that (Judge James) Zagel could increase the sentence if he thinks it's appropriate.

Speaking as someone who had a fairly good seat throughout the grand spectacle of Blagojevich's six-year reign of error over state government, I have two thoughts on this topic.

1. There is no sentence, no matter how long, cruel or unusual, that would deter someone like Rod Blagojevich from using his position for the betterment of himself. The wiretap evidence at his trial showed a man who viewed the world as existing to serve and exalt him. He was annoyed that he was "stuck" being governor and had laughably grandiose visions of himself as a member of a presidential cabinet.

To me, his blatant effort to shake down a horse track owner for a $100,000 campaign contribution was more egregious than his attempted auction of Barack Obama's Senate seat. The Senate seat sale, while more spectacular, was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The racetrack bribe was run-of-the-mill graft that could be committed over and over by a man who prided himself on political fundraising.

2. Blagojevich's 14-year sentence was too long.

I accept the deterrence argument advanced by those who disagree. It's logical: If Blagojevich wasn't deterred by his predecessor George Ryan's six-and-a-half-year sentence on corruption charges, then the court had to up the ante to prevent another Rod Blagojevich.

And by the time Blagojevich was sentenced in 2011 (he began serving his sentence almost exactly four years ago), he had become a despicable character. He spent his pre-trial months on the talk and reality show circuit, apparently unaware of the difference between celebrity and infamy.

He never took responsibility for his actions and remained petulant to the end.

But George Ryan's crimes included creating an environment of corruption that, ultimately, led to the deaths of six children in an accident involving a truck driver who obtained his license through a bribe. Ryan got six-and-a-half years. I can't rectify Blagojevich's corruption warranting more than twice that.

That's a simplistic take on sentencing and our judicial system, I know, but I can't shake the feeling that Blagojevich's sentence crossed the line between justice and vengeance.

UPDATE: Federal prosecutors announced March 30 that they will not re-try Blagojevich on the five vacated charges. It's now up to U.S. District Judge James Zagel to schedule a re-sentencing date.

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