Cloudy, With A Chance of Shitty Journalism
Seriously? Do I really have to write a sentencing post about meatballs?
Yes. Apparently I do.
Estelle Casimir works at the Cadet Mess Hall at West Point. Her supervisors accused her of stealing a bag of frozen meatballs.
West Point is a federal facility and crimes on the premises are treated as occurring within federal jurisdiction. The U.S. Attorney's Office charged Casimir with two misdemeanor counts in federal court. More specifically she was charged with petty larcency and misdemeanor possession of stolen property in violation of New York law under a federal statute that allows incorporation of state law under such circumstances. She has pleaded not guilty. The statutory maximum sentence she faces is two years.
You know where this is going, don't you?
Please note that this isn't even a case where the writers use the statutory maximum as the lede and explain in the text that the actual sentence will be far less. To the contrary, from Gawker:
Put in perspective, that's the same amount of time Trent Mays was sentenced to serve following his conviction in the Steubenville rape trial.
No. Just . . . no.
For the moment, let's leave aside that you are comparing federal adult sentences to state juvenile sentences, which are indeterminate until the juvenile is 21. More than that, though Casimir's statutory maximum sentence is two years, there is effectively zero chance she will be sentenced to anything like that. As I explained before, that's not how federal sentencing works. If Casimir is convicted, a federal judge will take into account the recommendation of the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Under the applicable sentencing guideline for larceny, Casimir will have a base offense level of 6. That could go up if the meatballs are valued at more than $5,000, but even given modern military procurement culture, that seems unlikely. So: since she has no apparent criminal record, she'll be sentenced based on an offense level of 6 (if she goes to trial) or 4 (if she pleads guilty):
That yields a recommendation of zero to six months in jail, in a zone of the sentencing chart where a sentence of straight probation is permissible. Unless she goes to trial and a judge thinks she has perjured herself flamboyantly, any federal practitioner will tell you that the extremely probable sentence is straight probation.
Is it good when journalists call attention to the criminal justice system? Yes. Is there room to inquire whether federal prosecution of Casimir — even if jurisdictionally permissible — is a sensible use of discretion? Absolutely. Could one construct an argument that the maximum possible sentence she faces is disproportionate if it is treated as the sentence she will face, and them compared to sentences other people have actually gotten for far worse conduct? I guess. It would be a very stupid argument, but sure.
But the "her maximum possible sentence exceeds the sentence rapists get" is sheer journalistic malpractice. It promotes ignorance about the criminal justice system. It blurs and distorts inequities rather than effectively challenging them. It adds absolutely nothing to the understanding of either Casimir's case or the Steubenville case, or criminal justice in general.
Journalists, please. You can do better.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
- Follow-Up: U.C. Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks Gets Free Speech Right This Time - September 12th, 2014
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- [Rerun from 2011] Ten Things I Want My Kids To Learn From 9/11 - September 11th, 2014
- Yale Might Want To Look Into Some Sort of Basic Civic Literacy Course - September 10th, 2014
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