Ms. Diamond’s column “Hastert prosecution shows justice uneven” strongly criticized former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s plea deal and suggested Mr. Hastert is receiving special treatment because of his status and wealth. Mr. Hastert was speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1999 through 2006 and is scheduled to be sentenced by a federal judge on April 27th.
Ms. Diamond’s column demonstrates that she:
- does not understand the criminal justice system even though she is an experienced reporter;
- has little respect for the constitutional presumption of innocence until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt;
- does not understand the appropriate role a criminal defense attorney plays representing a client, including at the sentencing hearing; and
- would prefer that the Statute of Limitations (SOL) be abolished.
It troubles me that so many, including Ms. Diamond, do not care that Mr. Hastert is being sentenced for the crime of lying to the FBI and structuring withdrawals to avoid bank-reporting requirements, not sexual abuse of a minor. While I do not condone the crimes for which Mr. Hastert has pled guilty, they are not serious enough to warrant decades of incarceration. My belief is that expensive prison space should be reserved for those who present a danger to society if they are not locked away. On the other hand, Ms. Diamond’s column strongly suggests Mr. Hastert should be punished more severely because of the sexual abuse accusations, although those allegations have not been proven in a court of law. It is inconceivable to me that so many believe Mr. Hastert should be punished for a sex crime even though he has not been convicted of one. We cannot condone punishing a person for a crime he/she may have committed.
Let’s be clear; Mr. Hastert admitted that he made 106 separate bank withdrawals to structure $952,000 of the hush-money to pay off a former student who was blackmailing him. Subsequent to the bank reporting the “suspicious transactions,” Mr. Hastert misled the FBI and did not reveal that he was being blackmailed. The blackmail was allegedly paid as hush money to a man Mr. Hastert had abused while he was coaching wrestling at Yorkville High School. The reality is Mr. Hastert was the victim of blackmail, which itself is a crime.
Ms. Diamond stated, “At sentencing later this month the former politician’s lawyers are sure to bring up his age, 74, the stroke he suffered last year, and his years of public service as mitigating factors…” as if those issues are inappropriate to raise. Clearly Ms. Diamond does not realize or appreciate that a defense attorney’s job is to raise mitigating issues at sentencing. What would she prefer instead? Should Mr. Hastert’s attorney simply throw him under the bus and tell the judge he is a creep who deserves to be sent to prison?
Ms. Diamond also implied that the SOL is something sinister or a loophole that only applies to the wealthy and powerful. The truth is that any person who committed a sex crime in Illinois during the same time-frame as Mr. Hastert’s allegations would be beyond prosecution now, regardless of economic status. The SOL exists for a number of reasons even though it is under attack by victims’ advocates throughout the country. The SOL exists because the passage of time makes it difficult for people to defend themselves when allegations are made. Critical evidence or witnesses are lost through the passage of time, and memories also become blurry and thus eyewitnesses are unreliable. If the SOL is abolished, the conviction rate for serious crimes will soar because many will be forced to plead guilty since viable defenses will not be available years or decades later.
In closing, I posit the following questions.
- Should a person be sentenced for a crime he/she may have committed or for the actual conviction before the court?
- Should the Statute of Limitations be abolished?
- Is it unethical for a defense attorney to put forth mitigating factors such as age and medical condition at sentencing?