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Felicity Huffman Sentencing Hearing

Our firm has been representing clients in serious federal criminal cases for over 20 years. Often, the media will contact Attorney Page Pate for his opinion and analysis of these types of cases that appear in the media, sometimes involving celebrities or other well-known people.

In this case, Felicity Huffman, an actress, has pleaded guilty in federal court in the highly publicized college admissions scandal. CNN contacted Page to discuss Ms. Huffman’s upcoming sentencing hearing and the likely sentence she may receive as a result of her guilty plea. Her attorneys have requested a one-year probation sentence, with 250 hours of community service.

Page says that he does not believe Ms. Huffman should go to prison and explains the sentencing process. He says “In federal court, it’s pretty simple how the sentencing process works. She entered a plea agreement with the government. And you calculate her potential sentence based on the sentencing guidelines. In her case, like with most of the parents, she’s looking at a few months in prison under the guidelines. But then, before you go to the judge, each side, the defense team and the prosecution, they submit their recommendations to the court. Is a guideline sentence appropriate? Should it be less? Should it be more? In this case, the government is saying, “It should be less than the guidelines, but we still think she should go to prison, at least for a month.” Her lawyers say, “No, this is a probation case.” This particular judge has already sentenced the sailing coach at Stanford to one day in jail, which was effectively time served, and his case involved a lot more money than her case. So I think if you put aside the fact that she’s a celebrity, makes a lot of money, certainly did something illegal, I still don’t think this is a prison case under federal law.”

When asked how much of an impact character witnesses statements may have on a person’s sentence, Page explains that “it depends on the judge. The federal sentencing guidelines, and the law, specifically says that a judge can take into account a defendant’s character. What have you done in the past? What’s your life been like? We know she doesn’t have any criminal history. But the court wants to see what she’s done in the community. Have you helped people? Have you made a difference? Or, is it all about your money and your kids?…And so, a good defense lawyer, and she’s well-represented, will file this paper that he’s done, the memorandum requesting the lower sentence, put in as many character letters as he can. I think they had 27 or something…”

Page also explains that the judge may review the memorandum many times, and that ultimately “the judge has got to say, “Look, why do I need to send you to prison if you’re not a danger to the community, if you’re already going to be deterred from doing anything like this in the future, and I’m sending a message to every other parent not to do it as well,” simply because of the felony conviction and all of the other consequences that she’s had to incur as a result of this case.”

TRANSCRIPT

Christi: Twenty minutes after the hour right now, and topping this morning’s legal brief, Oscar nominated actress Felicity Huffman could spend a month in jail for her part in the college admissions scandal. Huffman pleaded guilty, remember, to paying $15,000 to have a test proctor help her daughter with the SAT. Now, her lawyers have asked for a year probation and 250 hours of community service. Criminal defense attorney Page Pate with us now. So, what, first of all, do you think should happen?

Page: I don’t think she should go to prison at this point. In federal court, it’s pretty simple how the sentencing process works. She entered a plea agreement with the government. And you calculate her potential sentence based on the sentencing guidelines. In her case, like with most of the parents, she’s looking at a few months in prison under the guidelines. But then, before you go to the judge, each side, the defense team and the prosecution, they submit their recommendations to the court. Is a guideline sentence appropriate? Should it be less? Should it be more? In this case, the government is saying, “It should be less than the guidelines, but we still think she should go to prison, at least for a month.” Her lawyers say, “No, this is a probation case.” This particular judge has already sentenced the sailing coach at Stanford to one day in jail, which was effectively time served, and his case involved a lot more money than her case. So I think if you put aside the fact that she’s a celebrity, makes a lot of money, certainly did something illegal, I still don’t think this is a prison case under federal law.

Christi: Let me ask you this, because this is something that just came out. There are some statements that are being made on her behalf, one from her husband William Macy. And in part, it reads this, “Watching Felicity become a mother is a wonderful thing to see. My wife has an amazing ability to see our kids. She sees them not as we wish they were or what we hope they might become, but who they actually are.”

So, really, upping her character as a mother. And then, Eva Longoria, her former castmate on “Desperate Housewives,” said this. “There was a time when I was being bullied at work by a coworker. Until one day, Felicity told the bully, ‘Enough,’ and it all stopped. I know I would not have survived those 10 years if it wasn’t for the friendship of Felicity. Her gentle character and kind heart immediately opened up to me.”

Page: Right.

Christi: How much impact do statements like this have?

Page: Well, it depends on the judge. The federal sentencing guidelines, and the law, specifically says that a judge can take into account a defendant’s character. What have you done in the past? What’s your life been like? We know she doesn’t have any criminal history. But the court wants to see what she’s done in the community. Have you helped people? Have you made a difference? Or, is it all about your money and your kids?

And so, a good defense lawyer, and she’s well-represented, will file this paper that he’s done, the memorandum requesting the lower sentence, put in as many character letters as he can. I think they had 27 or something…

Christi: Yeah.

Page: …in this submission.

Christi: Yeah, they had a good amount.

Page: And the judge will go through it. And many times, that will make the difference. Because the judge has got to say, “Look, why do I need to send you to prison if you’re not a danger to the community, if you’re already going to be deterred from doing anything like this in the future, and I’m sending a message to every other parent not to do it as well,” simply because of the felony conviction and all of the other consequences that she’s had to incur as a result of this case.

Christi: All righty.

Page: Prison is just not necessary.

Christi: It’s just not necessary.