The principle of mitigation is an important one in the justice system. Once someone has pleaded guilty to an offence – or been found guilty of it after a trial – the attention of the court turns to sentencing, and this is when mitigation comes in (and will certainly be more generous in the former situation than in the latter). The defence uses all of its skill to urge the judge (or magistrates) to move downwards from the “starting point” sentence, which is – at least in the UK – specified in the publicly-available sentencing guidelines. And the prosecution usually rebuts these blandishments, seeking a more robust sentence. What amuses me is how criminals who have been shown to be utterly professional and ruthless throughout the court process are keen to emphasise their vulnerability when it comes to sentencing. I’m not saying that mercy should not be shown – I’m simply observing that it’s fun to watch the screeching U-turns. Two recent money laundering cases comes to mind.
In the first, Bruce Bagley – a former University of Miami professor whose area of research was (*irony alert*) Latin American drug trafficking and organised crime – pleaded guilty in June 2020 to receiving US$2.5 million in deposits from bank accounts in Switzerland and the UAE that was embezzled from Venezuela, and then retaining a commission. He has been held on remand since his arrest in November 2019, and as his sentencing hearing approaches his attorneys have filed a request that he be sentenced to time already served and released immediately, citing his age (75) and ill health, and saying that “it is altogether reasonable to predict that he will never be a repeat offender”. (Personally, I would have gone for the more convincing “he has assured us that…”, but then I am a picky-pants.) Prosecutors have said that Bagley has shown no remorse, and are asking for a sentence in the range 46-57 months (that’s 3.8 to 4.75 years – you’re welcome). And this very morning he has been jailed for… six months.
And in the second, we have the case of Graham “The Wig” Whelan, in Ireland. (No, I don’t whether he wears a wig, or is good at disguise, or listens in on private conversations – another mystery.) Now, Mr Whelan is not a nice man: in March 2000, when he was only 17, he was caught with €1.5 million worth of cocaine and ecstasy in the Holiday Inn in Dublin, and jailed for six years. This drugs bust was the start of a notorious feud between crime families (Whelan was part of the Kinehan family) in which sixteen people died. And Whelan matured as a criminal: he racked up 33 convictions, including violent disorder, criminal damage, assault and grievous bodily harm. In January 2019, Whelan was arrested at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin, in possession of €1,275 cash (when he was asked where it was from, he told officers he had got from “up his Swiss roll” and that they could keep it – ewww) and wearing an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak watch worth €28,000. He pleaded guilty to money laundering – including paying his hotel bill of €2,140 with the proceeds of crime. On 15 November 2021 he was sentenced to eighteen months in prison – and then asked the judge to delay sending him to prison until January, so that he could spend Christmas with his kids. The judge declined this interesting offer – I am assuming on the basis of that other sound legal principle “you should have thought of that earlier”.