Indeed He Deserved All Of It, But Denny Hastert’s Sentencing Hearing Was A Legal And Ethical Travesty

Hastert sentencing

“I am deeply ashamed to be standing here,” former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert  told a judge yesterday at his sentencing hearing.  “I know why I am here … I mistreated some of the athletes that I coached.”

Wait…what? That’s not why Hastert was in court at all. He was before a judge for one reason: he violated banking laws and lied to the F.B.I.. The fact that he was a sexual predator and molested members of the wrestling team he coached many years ago is not the reason he was in court. It couldn’t be. The statute of limitations on all of those crimes, horrible crimes all, had expired. Hastert couldn’t be charged, tried or convicted of any of them.

I don’t understand why this hasn’t been the focus of the coverage of Hastert’s ordeal yesterday. Why did the judge think it was appropriate to “angrily” lecture him about his crimes that in the eyes of the law he must be considered innocent of by the legal system, because he cannot be found guilty of these crimes any more?

“‘If Denny Hastert could do it, anyone could do it,'” U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin said. “Nothing is more stunning than to have the words ‘serial child molester’ and ‘speaker of the House’ in the same sentence.” Well, that’s very interesting, Judge. If  the late Ted Kennedy had been before you to be sentenced for, say, just a wild hypothetical, a drunk driving charge, would you lecture him about letting Mary Jo Kopechne drown in his car?

I may have missed it, but when O.J. Simpson was sentenced for burglary, I don’t recall the judge asking him to confess to murdering Nicole and Ron…did that happen?

Earlier this month, the judge and prosecutors allowed the trial to become a proxy trial for a crime that wasn’t on the docket, with prosecutors hammering at graphic details about the sex-abuse, describing how Hastert would sit in a recliner in the locker room with a direct view of the showers. The victims, prosecutors said, were boys between 14 and 17. Hastert was in his 20s and 30s. This is relevant to the charges against Hastert how, exactly? Answer: They aren’t.

I assume that defense attorneys and Hastert himself decided that to take this beating was the best strategy to try to get a lighter sentence, and I agree with them, but it was unethical and a breach of legal process to force him into this position.

I hadn’t paid much attention to the Hastert saga from an ethics point of view except for a  post last year about how there was little distinction between what was called his “extortion” by his former victims and a leagl settlement deal. Then I read some Facebook posts from friends—Republican-hating friends, because his political affiliation adds jsut a bit to the venom–saying that Hastert’s 15 month sentence was a “slap on the wrist.” It isn’t a slap on the wrist at all. The sentence was unusually harsh. Federal guidelines recommended probation to six months incarceration for violations of the banking laws Hastert broke while trying to hide his payments to his victims. He wasn’t being sentences for a sex crime. Except that he was.

He was to the absurd extent that he was ordered  to undergo sex-offender treatment, spend two years on supervised release from prison and pay a $250,000 fine to a crime victims’ fund. These are punishments related to crimes Hastert can’t be charged with, tried for, or sentenced for. When did the U.S. justice system become an open inquiry into every wrong a defendant ever engaged in, and an inquisition that requires him or her to come clean and accept official  condemnation for acts only tangentially related to the charges?

I must have missed that, too. Everybody else sure seems to be comfortable with it though.

There is nothing wrong with every citizen regarding Hastert as a child molester, just as there is nothing unfair about anyone who thinks of Bill Clinton as serial sexual harasser, Ted Kennedy as rich guy who bought his way out of a manslaughter charge, and O.J. Simpson as a double-murderer. Those are accurate assessments based of known facts, and we don’t have to play stupid and gullible just because the law can’t do anything about these crimes. Hastert is a serial child molester, apparently long retired. The law, however, for excellent reasons, says he can’t be tried for that. Why was he?

More important, why do we accept it? A legal system that can just choose to ignore laws, rules and principles because it really dislikes someone or what they did isn’t a legal system that the public can trust. More important still, a public that allows its legal system to blatantly violate its own principles out of emotion and anger is foolishly setting up the means of its own demise.

_____________________

Pointer: Fred

Sources: AP, NPR

 

22 thoughts on “Indeed He Deserved All Of It, But Denny Hastert’s Sentencing Hearing Was A Legal And Ethical Travesty

  1. I assume that defense attorneys and Hastert himself decided that to take this beating was the best strategy to try to get a lighter sentence, and I agree with them, but it was unethical and a breach of legal process to force him into this position.

    This was my read also.

    Like you, I asked myself where the judge got the moral authority to denounce Hastert for crimes for which he hadn’t been duly convicted, nor that had been at bar. Hastert’s admission of child sex abuse had no bearing on the case, other than as the motivation for the underlying offense; a motivation which was not the abuse itself, but rather the desire to hide it from the public by paying off one of his victims — the “cover up,” if you will.

    There is no doubt that the tragedy of Hastert’s behavior has now been compounded with an ethical and judicial tragedy in the form of punishing a crime for which the man had not been convicted, based apparently on the inability of the trial judge to separate his understandable moral outrage from his obligation under the law and criminal procedure. It should be offensive in the extreme to every law-abiding citizen if they would pause to think about it.

    But most won’t. It’s too easy just to be outraged. Thinking his hard, emoting is easy, and Hastert’s behavior was ghastly (based on the coerced confession of his behavior).

  2. Very good points all, but wasn’t a former speaker of the house violating federal banking regulations and lying to federal investigators bad enough? Wouldn’t condemnation for that be a worthy thing? The train wreck image might be appropriate for this post. Maybe a train crashing into his wheel chair? (And you gotta love the Mafia Don wheel chair act. Very smooth. Right out of “Law and Order.”)

  3. This was pure cowardice from everyone involved in prosecuting this case. They didn’t want to face criticism from the members of the American populace too ignorant to know that they were not permitted to do what they did. These are probably the same people who assume that merely because someone is arrested for a crime, they must be guilty, condemning them before trial, and who think that justice hasn’t been served if the accused is not convicted or is determined to be not guilty in a court of law.

    • Why do people “assume that merely because someone is arrested for a crime, they must be guilty, condemning them before trial, and who think that justice hasn’t been served if the accused is not convicted or is determined to be not guilty in a court of law”?

      • Can’t answer the ‘why,’ Michael, but when anyone is accused of a sex crime, and most especially one against a child, that statement is as true as anything ever spoken. I would even add to the last sentence with “and has not received the most stringent sentence possible and registration for life on the public registry.”

        • Then this is evil.

          It is evil to assume that “merely because someone is arrested for a crime, they must be guilty, condemning them before trial, and who think that justice hasn’t been served if the accused is not convicted or is determined to be not guilty in a court of law”

          This evil threatens the integrity of our criminal justice system.

          • Yes. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Check out the next “College/rape culture/rape crisis” article you see. Young men are expelled or suspended by university “sexual assault boards” based on accusations by young women, with no police report made or charges being brought and without those accused being able to speak for themselves or be represented. Finally, several men have filed suits against several universities.
            Read the comments on the next article you see about anyone accused or suspected in any type of sexual misconduct, especially a case involving a minor. Being condemned as guilty before trial is the kindest of the consequences you will see “recommended” as just punishment.

            • Then this system is illegitimate. We should not submit. Those who perpetuate this system are enemies of the United States.

              And we all know what the enemies of the United States deserve…

  4. “Like you, I asked myself where the judge got the moral authority to denounce Hastert for crimes for which he hadn’t been duly convicted, nor that had been at bar. Hastert’s admission of child sex abuse had no bearing on the case, other than as the motivation for the underlying offense; a motivation which was not the abuse itself, but rather the desire to hide it from the public by paying off one of his victims — the “cover up,” if you will.”

    I feel this way, too. If Hastert hadn’t harmed his students, he wouldn’t have been put on that slippery slope that led him to commit other crimes, too. That’s probably the thinking behind the lecture.

    But, no, he should not have been punished by the legal system for anything other than the charges against him.

  5. I keep thinking I must be missing something. The victims were even permitted to speak. Has anyone else written about this?=

  6. This whole thing scares me silly (there are those who will tell you I have always been a little silly), but for a judge and prosecutor to go so completely off the rails…isn’t there a large likelihood of an appeal?

  7. Well, the prosecutors had a very big fish in their net and wanted to take full advantage of their catch. It is impossible for me to feel sorry for Hastert but I don’t think the prosecutors are going to win any legal ethics awards soon.

    • Yeah, you don’t need to feel sorry (and who on earth could?) for Hastert to regret the disastrous direction the prosecution went. Those of us too cynical by half know perfectly well, as others rightly pointed out above, that the introduction of statute-limited child abuse was all about political grandstanding and virtue-signalling to potential voters.

      Legal ethics these days seem to be totally inadequate to restrain an ambitious prosecutor, especially since they are almost never enforced on anyone but the relatively powerless. If the Illinois bar takes note at all, they’ll be so mad at the prosecutor that they’ll disbar some small-time criminal defense attorney.

      It’s even worse when the legal community and commentariat actively chearleads the unethical DA. Them feelz, they just supersede everything.

  8. Where the heck was his defense team? Did they even TRY to have any of this barred testimony/evidence/confession blocked or thrown out? If not, it would seem to me that they did a less than thorough job representing him and should face disciplinary action. Maybe I missed something as I have not been following the story.

    • I’m sure they persuaded Hastert that he had to take it in order to appear completely remorseful, lest his team’s efforts to keep the sexual molestations out of the trial appear to the public and news media as further denial and cover-up. He was in an impossible position…of his own making substantially, but still one that the system should not have placed him into.

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