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In July 2007, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy charges stemming from his role in a dog fighting venture. Vick’s indictment included allegations that he executed approximately eight ill-performing dogs using a variety of methods. In connection with their operation of Bad Newz Kennels, Vick and three co-defendants were indicted on charges of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. When Vick’s three co-defendants pleaded guilty to dog fighting charges and agreed to cooperate with the prosecution by testifying against Vick at trial, Vick agreed to enter a plea bargain with the prosecution. As a result, the prosecution recommended a sentence between 12 and 18 months. However, U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson sentenced Vick to 23 months in prison.
Michael Vick’s dog fighting scandal spawned debate over the appropriate sentence for Vick. Some argue Vick’s sentence was too stringent. They believe that Vick’s celebrity status was used against him to make a statement that animal abuse will not be tolerated. Others disagree, arguing that Vick deserves the maximum punishment available.
There are two factors that indicate that Vick received a more stringent sentence than other similarly-situated criminals. First, in State v. Cyr, a Michigan case with similar facts to Vick’s case, eight defendants were found guilty on charges of conspiracy to violate the state’s dog fighting statute and were sentenced to six months in prison and three years of probation. The prison sentence of each defendant in that case amounts to about one fourth of the time Vick is sentenced to spend behind bars.
Second, the shorter sentences received by Vick’s co-defendants lead to a conclusion that his sentence was more stringent than that of the average dog-fighting conspirator. Although all four men faced a maximum of 5 years in prison, each of Vick’s three co-defendants received a sentence within the range recommended under the Sentencing guidelines while Vick received a sentence greater than that recommended by the prosecution.
There are several possible explanations for Vick’s more stringent sentence. Perhaps Judge Hudson believed that Vick played a greater role in the dog fighting scheme than the plea bargain indicated. Hudson may have thought Vick was trying to shirk responsibility for his crimes by not coming clean with investigators from the beginning. It was only after being grilled for hours by the FBI that Vick admitted to hanging one of the dogs. In September, Vick tested positive for marijuana, which violated Judge Hudson’s stipulation that Vick refrain from using drugs. The judge may have viewed Vick’s marijuana use as flaunting the pretrial condition and taken the violation into account during sentencing. Or perhaps Hudson was sending a message through his sentencing. Judge Hudson’s message might have been designed to denounce dog fighting in general, or perhaps the intended message is that wealth and fame cannot insulate anyone from the law.
- Anonymous JETL Member
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