Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Conviction is a Conviction, and Wesley Snipes was Convicted

On Feb. 3, I posted some comments about the Wesley Snipes tax evasion trial, noting that media reports that Snipes had "won" were partly true (in that he was acquitted on 2 felony counts and 3 misdemeanor counts) but also partly false (in that he was convicted on 3 misdemeanor counts). Saying only that he had won, therefore, is utterly misleading.

I further argued that, while Snipes could rightly celebrate a reduction in his possible prison time, it was absurd to think that he had somehow beaten the system, because even if he were to end up serving no prison time at all (which is highly unlikely), his tax protest will end up costing him millions of dollars and will give him a permanent criminal record.


That the media have mischaracterized the outcome of the case was brought home to me later on Feb. 3, when a student came up to me and said, "So I hear that Snipes got off." If that is the message that even law students are getting from their news sources, it's no wonder tax deniers find it easy to recruit new victims.

Spread the word! Snipes was convicted, and he will be millions of dollars poorer because of his foolish decision to press a frivolous position. Respect for the rule of law is undermined when people wrongly believe that illegal behavior has gone unpunished.

I'll post some thoughts tomorrow morning on the (lack of) substance of a particular frivolous tax argument; but I felt compelled to make this much more fundamental call for clarity and sanity today.

Posted by Neil H. Buchanan

10 comments:

Sobek said...

"Respect for the rule of law is undermined when people wrongly believe that illegal behavior has gone unpunished."

I'd say it's undermined far worse when people correctly believe that illegal behavior goes unpunished (thanks, OJ).

Or when illegal behavior results in insufficient punishment (i.e. too lenient sentences, abolishing the death penalty, etc.)

It's easy enough to correct the student who read the news wrong. It's much harder to convince people to respect a system that really did fail. For example, how do you persuade me that my second amendment rights are anything less than fundamental, when I read stories of violent criminals getting no more than a slap on the wrist?

Dave Rifkin said...

We live in a sound bite society, and the government did not get the first sound bite. After the story broke, the media, and the public, moved on to the next story.

The government, however, may get a second bite at the media apple--after Mr. Snipes is sentenced. Whatever sentence the judge imposes on Mr. Snipes (from nothing at all to the maximum) it will be newsworthy, and the media will be there waiting for a sound bite.

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