Friday, August 24, 2007

Tricky Vick

I pulled Michael Vick's plea agreement and written factual basis from this afternoon, and the documents make for interesting reading. I read these kinds of documents all the time, so I wanted to read Vick's when I saw they were available. The lawyering is quite good, IMHO.

I've never seen a plea agreement before in which the parties agree to an upward departure from the Sentencing Guideline sentencing range, but Vick agreed to one, taking him from what looked like a 0-6 month range to a 12-18 month range. The agreed-upon range is merely a statement of what the Government and Vick believe is an appropriate sentence; it is not binding on the sentencing judge. It could be that Vick's attorneys believed that the facts of the case, the notoriety of the crime, and the high profile of the defendant would result in a sentence above the guideline range, and wanted to limit the damage by agreeing on a realistic range in advance. Vick also waived his right to appeal, which is very common. He may realize that he has maybe 4-6 years left to pursue his football career when he gets out of the can--if he's allowed to return--so it's in his interest to serve his sentence as quickly as possible.

Vick's written factual basis contains some clever phraseology. He admitted to running a gambling operation (his dogfighting ring), but not to taking any winnings or placing any bets. Most likely that paragraph is directed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who reportedly declined to commit in advance to allowing Vick back into the NFL after he gets out of prison. Goodell could easily invoke the league's anti-gambling policy to banish Vick, without having to address the issues whether dogfighting is an element of African-American popular culture and whether Vick's prosecution is inherently racist. I think those claims are bullshit--and demeaning to black people--but they have a tiny kernel of credibility in the fact that people kill animals all the time in recreational hunting. But bloodsports are illegal in all states (now including Louisiana!) and, historically, African-Americans are not the only people who have been involved in that kind of activity. Anyhow, Goodell might find it a little more problematic to invoke the gambling policy against someone who took no winnings and placed no bets, though the fact that he acknowledged operating a gambling enterprise might be enough, I don't know.

The most cleverly phrased provision is the one in which Vick admits to personally killing dogs without actually saying "I killed dogs in very nasty ways." To wit: "PEACE, PHILLIPS, and VICK agreed to the killing of approximately 6-8 dogs that did not perform well in 'testing' sections . . . and all of those dogs were killed by various methods, including hangning and drowning. VICK agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts of PEACE, PHILLIPS, and VICK." It makes it all sound rather passive.


Ann said...

Peace, Phillips and Vick...isn't that a title of a song by Elvis Costello?

I was wondering if you were on the circuit when the Santa Fe case was heard here.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I worked here when the Santa Fe case was heard. Alas, I missed oral arguments. Judge Wiener's opinion has more detail than the S. Ct.'s opinion about the actual persecution of the Mormon girl in the classroom. It was pretty offensive.


Sideon said...

All I can hear is that line from the Alien franchise and a guy screaming "Game over, man, game over!"