William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Monday, 29, June, 2009

Priorities and proportionality

Filed under: People who need pianos dropped on them,Social Commentary — williamthecoroner @ 21:58

Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison. Barring any act of clemency, this pretty much guarantees that Mr. Madoff will die in prison. At the hearing, the judge commented:

“Here, the message must be sent that Mr. Madoff’s crimes were extraordinarily evil and that this kind of irresponsible manipulation of the system is not merely a bloodless financial crime that takes place just on paper, but it is instead … one that takes a staggering human toll,”

I’ve been involved with trials many times in my career. In Ohio, if one individual kills another with malice aforethought, or while in the commission of another crime, that is aggravated murder. One will be able to face the parole board in twenty-three years. It used to be less. I recall one defendant who was facing a second “life” sentence, he’d gotten out of his first “life” sentence after twelve years behind bars.

Now, I do believe the courts and society have gotten stricter since that gentleman was sentenced the first time. Probably a good thing. And I do not wish to argue that Mr. Madoff doesn’t need to suffer some consequences. After all, he made off (as it were) with a lot of people’s money. But he did not do it alone. He was operating for years, and I am sure people turned a blind eye to his machinations, either because they were paid off or people were making too much money to want to derail the gravy train.

The sentencing sends a message, alright.  One of the messages it sends is that money is more important than people.  To be hurt by Bernie Madoff one had to be both incredibly wealthy–the average Joe couldn’t have invested with him directly– and incredibly imprudent.  The rates of return were out of porportion to the risks of the investments.   The wealth of his victims is irrelevant.  The collusion of his victims is relevant.

Dr. Helen asks a very cogent question.  To wit: Why is a swindler, who committed a property crime with no violence receiving a punishment greater than those who rape and take human lives? Madoff is a Dictyostelium, to be sure. There need to be consequences for his actions. I was taught growing up that people were more important than things. As a society, what are our values?


  1. […] pity one might feel for those who lost their life savings, there’s a nagging feeling that the Madoff example won’t act as the strong deterrent US District Judge Denny Chin thought it might […]

    Pingback by Will Madoff Sentence Deter Future Hustlers? « Mark Riley Media — Tuesday, 30, June, 2009 @ 09:03 | Reply

  2. Several decades ago, a decision by the Missouri Supreme court caused a lot of retrials. I was on the jury for one, a retrial of a murder case. We found him guilty again. The original sentence was 20yrs to life as I remember. We gave him 150 years. We calculated that the murderer would be at least 79 before he would be eligible for parole as calculated then (don’t know what it’d be now.) We intended that he’d be pretty old and hopefully harmless if he reached 79.

    The defendant protested. The judge said “You wanted a new trial, you got a new sentence. Next case!”

    Comment by Crucis — Tuesday, 30, June, 2009 @ 13:10 | Reply

  3. The thing I would do differently is sentence the wife, the kids, etc. to the SAME period. You know damn well they knew what was going on. As to the severity? Well, my opinion, the impact on hundreds or thousands of lives rises to the level of serious charges.

    Comment by Old NFO — Tuesday, 30, June, 2009 @ 19:13 | Reply

    • I don’t say his actions do not merit severe punishment. A bunch of people were involved, colluding with Mr. Madoff. Including, you’re correct, his family, and the government regulators and his investors victims.

      There are people who have set their own children on fire who will be eligible for parole before Mr. Madoff, though. That’s just wrong.

      Comment by williamthecoroner — Tuesday, 30, June, 2009 @ 19:59

  4. […] — williamthecoroner @ 13:41 My Best Posts of 2009: January February March April May June July August September October November […]

    Pingback by Year End Blog Digest « William The Coroner’s Forensic Files — Thursday, 31, December, 2009 @ 13:42 | Reply

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