Last year, a federal district court sentenced former state senator Dianne Wilkerson to 3 1/2 years in prison on charges of political corruption.
On April 5, 2012, the First Circuit Court of Appeals revisited Wilkerson’s sentencing, and upheld the lower court’s decision.
When the district court initially sentenced Wilkerson, it issued its reasoning in detail. On appeal, Wilkerson’s defense team questioned three of the district court’s comments.
Wilkerson was a state Senator in Massachusetts when she was arrested by federal agents in 2008. She resigned shortly thereafter. In 2007 and 2008, Wilkerson allegedly took numerous cash bribes from undercover agents, and was caught on tape shoving $100 bills into her bra after one of the meetings.
She pleaded guilty to federal charges of attempted extortion in relation to a liquor license and the sale and development of a parcel of publicly owned land.
Wilkerson also had a prior brush with the legal system when, in 1997, she pleaded guilty to failure to file federal income taxes.
On appeal, her counsel challenged the district court’s statements about Wilkerson’s past wrongdoings. Her lawyer said the statements were objectionable and possibly damaging to Wilkerson.
Defense counsel stated that the district court’s reference to Wilkerson’s tax violation implied a lack of remorse. The appeals court stated that the mention of the tax violation was part of a larger context and that it served to make a point that Wilkerson had failed to attend to her own legal responsibilities.
A similar argument was raised about the court’s comment on Wilkerson’s prior campaign finance violations. Again, the appeals court stated that these comments were to make a larger point on Wilkerson’s non-compliance with her obligations.
Finally, defense counsel questioned the district court’s scrutiny of Wilkerson’s arrangement to lecture at a local college. The appeals court found no wrong in this comment, as it stated that the arrangement was disproportionate (Wilkerson barely appeared at lectures but received $15,000).
“The judge was motivated by a need to impose harsher sentences for corrupt politicians in Massachusetts,” Wilkerson’s lawyer said last year. Does that mean Wilkerson’s sentence simply furthered this purpose?