Published January 25, 2011
On this day of sentencing for ex-City Councilor Chuck Turner, WBUR’s David Boeri reports on an angle that has caught my attention: Why is the government essentially punishing Turner for pleading not guilty?
In his federal corruption trial, Turner took the stand in his own defense, despite his attorney’s pleas to the contrary. Along the way Turner launched a campaign to shame the government for its efforts — as he saw it — to “target and eliminate black officials.” Turner called the FBI an “evil institution.”
From the government’s sentencing recommendations:
While his public campaign has pandered to a few faithful supporters, he could hardly have done more to promote the public’s cynicism about elected officials and to erode trust in the rule of law. His post-indictment conduct has amplified the crimes for which he was charged. He has sought to undermine the integrity of the judicial process. As a result, Turner is uniquely undeserving of a downward departure or deviation.
In other words: Turner insulted the system, so he shouldn’t get off easy. The memorandum recommends up to 41 months in prison.
That’s the same sentence dished out to ex-state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who was busted in the same case on more substantial charges. The two personalities couldn’t be more opposite: She resigned her seat, pleaded guilty and begged a judge for mercy.
A defendant’s conduct does not determine his guilt or innocence, but oftentimes it does determine punishment.
What’s novel is that prosecutors now accuse Turner of perjury for testifying he did not remember meeting FBI informant Ron Wilburn, who handed Turner the fake bribe he was convicted of taking.
Boeri interviewed Boston defense attorney Harvey Silverglate:
“It is your constitutional right to plead not guilty,” Silverglate said. “What the government is doing in this sentencing memorandum is suggesting that Turner, for insisting he is not guilty, should be punished extra severely. That’s highly improper.”
Turner’s testimony was considered a disaster that led to his conviction. Prosecutors call it “perjury” and want the judge to punish and thereby “condemn Turner’s contempt for the court as an institution.”
“Well, the government claims it is perjury. However, it is perfectly understandable how somebody like Turner, who sees in some days dozens of people, would not remember seeing Wilburn,” Silverglate said.
Turner is asking for supervised probation, no prison time. That would let Turner proceed with his lawsuit against the City Council for expelling him from the board.
Chuck Turner might say the government is not playing fair — but at the end of the day, he is on the losing side of this war.