What should happen to a Federal Judge convicted of a Federal offense?
If you have not been following the news closely, you might have missed this story: Federal District Judge Samuel Kent in Texas has pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice stemming from false statements he made about his sexual advances to various female employees. In so doing, Kent faces up to 20 years in prison under the statute, though it is anticipated that prosecutors will recommend that Judge Vinson sentence Kent to three years confinement pursuant to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
The issue of sending a Federal Judge to jail raises some interesting issues, some of which are applicable to many white collar defendants who find themselves in a Federal courtroom. Some of which are not.
Every BOP inmate was sent to prison by a Federal Judge. This fact, and the security concerns that flow from this fact, will no doubt be a factor in Judge Vinson’s decision whether to place Kent among those who may very well have a grudge against him or Federal Judges in general. To put Kent in prison would also be a tremendous burden to the BOP staff.
Typically, one might expect a defendant with Kent’s background who has been convicted of obstruction to be housed in a minimum security prison. A minimum security prison has the lowest security level and Kent’s designation to one would probably ease any concerns that BOP staff might have with respect to Kent’s safety. In this case, however, the BOP would be required, in accordance with its own regulations, to consider Kent’s sexual contact, which I assume is set out in the Statement of Facts and will be included in a Presentence Report, as a public safety factor and to house Kent in a low-security facility, at the least. While such placement is not as risky as a medium or high-security facility, it might still create some safety concerns on the part of the BOP staff. I anticipate we will either hear these arguments at sentencing or at least read about them in the defense filings.
As I noted earlier, the situation in which Kent now finds himself is applicable to many white collar defendants in Federal court. In addition to the safety concerns, Judge Vinson will have to consider the fact that Kent has already lost a great deal (his job, his reputation) and may still lose more (his retirement, perhaps). Kent can in no way be considered to have gotten off easy, as some have suggested, if he avoids prison. Like so many others who have found themselves in Federal court, he has lost a great deal merely by obtaining his status as a convicted felon.