Republican Congressman Off to Prison

Rep. Duke Cunningham got sentenced to prison yesterday for accepting at least $2.4 million in bribes. He was looking at a maximum ten-year prison term and actually received eight years, four months.

Cunningham solicted and obtained bribes from defense industry contractors. He used his position to help his co-conspirators get contracts from the Department of Defense.

So, why is this on a blog about torts? Well, this sentence has nothing to do with torts but makes me think about Anna Alaya. She got nine years in prison for attempting to extort a personal injury settlement from Wendy’s.

Now, I have said from Day 1 that I believe that falsifying a personal injury claim is something that deserves jail time. But I criticized the nine year sentence as too long given the sentences that some white collar criminals have received in the past.

It is important that our citizens believe that our public officials are not corrupt. A stiff prison sentence handed down to public officials found guilty of corruption is appropriate. But my concern is that we punish “ordinary folks” who commit crime much more severely than we do public figures and big-time executives. Doing so reinforces the notion that there are two systems of justice, one for the “haves” and another for the “have nots.”

Finally, before somebody accuses me of being “soft on crime” or, even worse, a “liberal,” let me say again that Anna Alaya deserved jail time for what she did. We all have an interest in a safe food supply, and people who allege contamination of food products in an effort to extort money undermine public confidence in prepared foods. (Although the allegation that there was a finger in chili does less to undermine the food industry than, for instance, saying that a day’s production of some product was contaminated by e. coli.) We also have an interest in the integrity of our civil justice system. But is a nine-year sentence for Anna fair when one looks at the sentence received by Rep. Cunningham or these sentences received by other members of Congress?