Judge James Spencer has sentenced former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell to two years in prison. This represents a win for McDonnell, who faced the possibility of being sentenced to a term of more than ten years, as the government wanted.
Spencer rejected the government’s proposed sentencing range (basically ten years to 12 and a half), finding that a more appropriate range would be six and a half to eight years. But he concluded that even a sentence within that range “would be ridiculous under these facts.”
In imposing a sentence of only two years, Spencer cited the outpouring of support for McDonnell, the governor’s military service, and the facts of the case. My impression is that Spencer believes that the government’s case, though strong enough to survive defense motions, wasn’t compelling enough to warrant a long prison sentence.
Judge Spencer may have been mindful of the risk of “criminalizing politics” presented by this sort of case. A long prison sentence in a “winks and nods” type case such as this one probably struck him as inappropriate, especially considering that huge amounts of money did not exchange hands.
Did letters from McDonnell’s friends citing his support for automatic restoration of felon voting rights and (occasional) support for President Obama influence the sentence? I see no reason to assume so, but who knows for sure?
McDonnell was humble before Judge Spencer and in his appearance afterwards before the press. He still maintains his innocence, but told the judge that he had allowed his life as governor to become “out of balance,” with too much focus on politics and governing and not enough on his family.
McDonnell asked for mercy but asked that the judge first grant whatever mercy he has to his wife, Maureen. She will be sentenced next month.
It seems to me that Judge Spencer delivered justice today by rejecting both McDonnell’s appeal for no jail time and the government’s call for an extremely long sentence.