Martha Stewart's five-month jail sentence is likely to be debated
Was the punishment, which also includes a five-month house
arrest, two years' probation, and a $30,000 fine, too lenient,
perhaps evidence that the rich get off more easily? Or was it too
tough, given the nature of the crime and the fact she is a first-
It is a debate that frequently rages when a celebrity, a wealthy
businessperson, or a political leader gets convicted of a crime.
Critics of the criminal justice system point to the fat wallets of
white-collar felons, who sometimes end up with electronic bracelets
around their ankles while they shuffle around their homes in
slippers. Defenders of the system claim that judges are actually
harder on white-collar types, who often don't get the proverbial
"second chance" no matter who is defending them. This argument is
likely to resonate in other high-profile trials, such as those of
Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Kenneth Lay, former head
"There is no doubt that the justice system has never found a way
to even the field when some lawyers are better than others and some
defendants have more money to hire them," says Larry Soderquist, a
lawyer with the firm Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz
in Nashville, Tenn.
The issue of equality before the law is one of the reasons
Congress formed the US Sentencing Guidelines Commission in 1987. The
commission formulated the current sentencing standards, which take
some discretion away from judges.
Moreover, Attorney General John Ashcroft has been particularly
adamant that white-collar criminals serve time in jail. "In fairness
to Ashcroft, [jail time] has largely been the position of the
Department of Justice for a number of years on the theory that for
white-collar offenders, the prospect of prison or seeing their peers
go to prison acts as a form of deterrence," says Mark Pearlstein, a
former federal prosecutor, now a partner at McDermott Will & Emery
This legal theory has been enforced even more in the wake of
corporate scandals, says Mr. Soderquist. "The world changed with the
Enron debacle, and [Stewart] got caught up in it," he says. "The
[Securities and Exchange Commission] is even more aggressive with
any white-collar crime."
In fact, Herb Hoelter, Ms. Stewart's sentencing consultant, who
advises a number of nonviolent offenders, finds that nonwhite-
collar defendants often get a "second chance."
"I think the judges are tougher on white-collar criminals," he