Monday, December 10, 2007

Drop State Charges against Vick—The Public Gouged it’s Pound of Flesh Out of Him with Fed Sentencing
Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Even the most rabid Michael Vick loathers can’t argue with the toss the book sentence that Federal Judge Henry E. Hudson hurled at the tumbled former football great. The 23 month sentence he got exceeded the recommendation by federal prosecutors, the sentences his co-defendants got, and the average sentence for this type of crime that’s spelled out in federal sentencing guidelines. Given the intense hysteria of legions of animal lovers at Vick, he’ll likely serve the bulk of his jail time. But the punishment is overly harsh. Vick is a first time offender. He expressed remorse, publicly apologized, shelled out nearly a million bucks for the upkeep of the impounded animals, and likely won’t play another down in the NFL. Vick’s life and career is wrecked. The feds and the public have more than gouged their pound of flesh out of him.

That’s exactly why Virginia’s Surrey County Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter should do the right legal and personal thing and drop the state prosecution of Vick. The trial is currently scheduled for April 2. In fact, state charges should never have been brought. This was a federal case from day one. The evidence of conspiracy and trafficking in dog fighters across state lines was overwhelming. Professional dog fighting almost always involves interstate transit of the dogs to the fighting matches and events.

There’s also the troubling fact that while state prosecutors talk a good game about cracking down on the dog fighting top cats, they are still notoriously lax in prosecuting, let alone tossing the book at many of them. The near textbook example of that is the case involving the wealthy and legendary dog fighting father and son kingpins Floyd and Guy Boudreaux in Louisiana. Two years after their arrest on dog fighting related charges, they are still walking free with no sign that the state is sprinting to court to get them in a docket. PETA or the Humane Society of the U.S. that turned out their throngs to curse and wave signs at Vick in front of federal court in Virginia have given absolutely no indication that they have or will mount a national crusade to nail them, or that they have even raised a peep nationally about the glacial pace of the state’s prosecution of them. There was a brief article on the Humane Society’s web site on the case two years ago, and that’s it.

The stiff federal sentence dumped on Vick amply sent the message that a rich, famous, sports glitz figure won’t be treated any differently than the average Joe that breaks the law. But none of that means much to PETA, and it certainly didn’t mean anything to state prosecutors. Despite their weak and disingenuous protest that they went after Vick solely because he broke state law, they didn’t. It was politics and race. They figured that no one could dare say that race or celebrity had anything to do with the state indictment of Vick since four of the six grand jurors are African-American and were not in celebrity awe of him.

The race and celebrity card in reverse ploy doesn't mean much. It defies belief to think that if Vick had been an average African-American guy that the black jurors or Poindexter would have wasted countless hours pouring over his case and ultimately leveled an indictment at him. The fed charges were heavy duty enough and there was every sign that he would not waltz away with the standard celebrity pass hand slap sentence. It meant that Vick’s punishment would have more than fit the magnitude of his crimes. That should have ended the matter for the state, and in most cases it does.

Fed and state officials almost always maintain a rigid church and state separation when it comes to prosecuting cases. It's not just because they fear the potential danger of double jeopardy in a dual prosecution that they stay off of each others toes. It's because legal overkill is wasteful, time-consuming and cost ineffective.

The rare times that fed and state prosecutors stray onto each others turf is when the state fails to get a conviction in high profile politically or legally compelling racial cases that stokes public rage and scream for federal action. The Rodney King beating case and the old 1960s civil rights related racial murder cases are textbook examples of that. The feds retry these cases but on separate civil rights charges. The prosecutors that do the straying almost always are the feds. Even Beltway sniper John Muhammad, though there was strong suspicion that he left a trail of murder victims in other states, the states deferred prosecution of him to Virginia and Maryland. Muhammad's conviction and death sentence rendered another state's prosecution of him moot.

With Vick, the same rule and logic should apply. There's no compelling interest or reason to pile on another prosecution of Vick. Fairness and common legal sense must prevail. Virginia should drop charges against Vick, and drop them now.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is The Latino Challenge to Black America: Towards a Conversation between African-Americans and Hispanics (Middle Passage Press)