By Mark Allenbaugh & Frank Larry for Findlaw
Monday, Aug. 20, 2007 – Michael Vick’s lucrative endorsement contracts and career as the Atlanta Falcons’ star quarterback are already all but history, due to his involvement with dog-fighting. In addition, a very vocal public campaign against dog-fighting has been launched by the animal-rights organization PETA, in conjunction with the Rev. Al Sharpton and Russell Simmons.
With public opinion harshly against him, and his life in disarray, Michael Vick will need all the skill and luck his defense team can muster–and quick–in order to avoid prison time and salvage whatever might be left of his image as a gifted athlete. In this column, we consider what sentence Vick is likely to receive.
The Charges Against Vick, and Why He’ll Be Wise to Plead Guilty
Thus far, Vick has been charged by federal prosecutors with a single count of conspiracy to engage in racketeering and dog-fighting. The statutory maximum for this offense is five years. However, if Vick does not act quickly, and the government issues a superseding indictment that goes beyond the conspiracy charges, to charge Vick with racketeering outright, his statutory maximum penalty could quadruple, to twenty years.
Vick’s three co-defendants have agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the government. With these three witnesses ready to inculpate Vick, if he were to gamble on obtaining an acquittal at trial, it would be a long-shot at best. His best bet is to plead out quickly (before a superseding indictment is filed), and then to convince the government and the Court that a reasonable sentence on the conspiracy charges does not include time in prison.
How the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, Applicable Here, Are Typically Applied
Should Vick either plead guilty or be convicted of conspiracy, he will be sentenced under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. In place for twenty years now, the Guidelines were created by Congress to provide more certainty in sentencing, and to ensure defendants are treated both justly, in the sense that the punishment fits the crime, and fairly, in that similarly-situated offenders receive similar sentences.