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Friday, December 2, 2011

Post-Conviction Stress Can Kill You

Aside from life-threatening diseases and deaths of close ones, perhaps there is no more stressful event than being convicted of a crime and facing jail time.

If you are convicted and over the age of 40, your crime could result in what Manhattan federal judge Jed Rakoff called a sentence of  "effectively life."  For background, Rakoff (with whom I worked briefly when I started my career) was using this phrase when trying to determine the sentence of former New York power lawyer -- and total fraud -- Marc Dreier.  In a morbid twist, the sentencing conversation between Rakoff and Dreier's lawyer Gerald Shargel turned almost entirely on the expected life expectancy of the then-59-year-old Dreier, and ended with Dreier getting 20 years -- probably out in about 17 years with parole and good behavior. 

Might a younger defendant have gotten more time?  See the case of another really bad lawyer, Scott Rothstein, whose infamous South Florida scam resulted in the then-49-year-old Rothstein getting a 50-year sentence. 

A brief aside: Consider the cases of Dreier (59-year-old gets 20 years), Rothstein (49-year-old gets 50 years) and Bernie Madoff (72-year-old gets 200 years from former federal district court judge turned federal appellate judge Denny Chin).  All these men plead guilty.  No trials.  For the lengths of these sentences -- which also result in the convict going to at least a medium-security federal facility (no Club Fed) -- what was the benefit at sentencing in "accepting responsibility"?  

Nah, I couldn't figure it out either.

I currently consult for a recent middle-aged federal convict -- whose identity I shall keep confidential -- who has suffered a few heart attacks since losing at trial.  He wouldn't be the first to suffer such pain.  Former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay suffered a fatal heart attack following his criminal conviction at trial at age 63. 

The stress of merely being investigated is one thing -- and that alone can be extremely grueling.  Just ask anthrax attack suspect Stephen Hatfill, who was under investigation for five years by the FBI -- and even named publicly by Attorney General John Ashcroft as a "person of interest" -- before the investigation was closed without further action. (Postscript: The federal government paid Hatfill a $6 million settlement.)

If you are innocent, it's even worse.  At least if you are guilty and are somewhat able to admit that fact, and do so before a judge, you can avail yourself of the substantial benefits: the promise of leniency at sentencing, and perhaps even the opportunity to get paid by the government to be a federal informant.  (But that is a topic for a different time.)  The innocent have no escape hatch, nothing to offer for leniency, only the determination that they refuse to admit guilt for something they did not do -- in essence, they refuse to lie.

The stress of being indicted, actively prosecuted, and put on trial is an additional and severe strain.  The stress of being convicted and actually facing the very likely prospect of jail just piles on with the stress becoming exponentially greater.

These situations can be deadly and require assistance for all but the most stout of characters to survive.  If I can be of assistance -- and if you can pay using funds which are not tainted by or from the proceeds of any arguably criminal activity or origin -- you should contact me.

Eric Dixon is a New York investigative lawyer, management and political consultant, and litigation stress and crisis consultant.  Mr. Dixon may be reached at  Mr. Dixon is also on twitter @dixonstrategy.


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