Veterans of the criminal courts sometimes become numb to big sentences. A client "catches" 30 years in a bad drug case. Perhaps a couple of life terms to someone convicted of a contract killing. Even death lurks. Bad things happen in the criminal courts.
But really bad things rarely seem to happen to those convicted of white collar crime. Until today. Today former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in prison. His request for bond was denied, and he was ordered confined at home, with an electronic monitor on his ankle until such time as he reports to prison.
Put another way, a corporate convict was just treated like a crack dealer.
I am not sure how I feel about this. Crack sentences are too harsh; everyone knows it, but no one has the will to do something about it for fear they will be perceived as soft on crime. And white collar sentences are typically far too low. What elevated Skillings to the stratosphere was loss amount and the number of foreseeable victims.
But 24 years? That is likely to be close to a life sentence for the 52-year-old Skilling.
The sentence certainly sends a message of intolerance for corporate corruption. But it does so at the cost of sensitizing us to big time for any crime. That seems like a net loss in terms of social utility.