Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vick's got to be punished

Michael Vick has been indicted on federal charges connected to dog fighting. This has been an ongoing investigation and the indictment is the first indication that authorities have anything meaningful to connect Vick to any criminal activity. An indictment is serious business but it is still a long way from a conviction.

Even if convicted on all charges Vick won’t likely see prison walls. Animal abuse charges are minor issues and somebody with a relatively clean record will likely receive a suspended sentence, hefty fines and arduous probation. One could argue that Vick took part and murdering underperforming animals in addition to abusing those who met his expectations but the most serious component of Vick’s alleged activity is crossing state lines for the purpose of committing a crime. By federal and state standards the real problem with dog fighting is the illegal gambling that occurs around it.

Of course Vick is a rich man who can afford powerful attorneys. The odds of the charges in the indictment actually remaining intact by the time a trial begins are slim. Indictments are relatively easy to obtain because. The grand jury simply decides whether or not there is enough substance to an allegation to warrant a trial. The defense is very limited in what it can do during the grand jury proceedings but once the indictment is handed down and the trial process begins motions can be filed and charges can be amended to lesser offenses.

The most likely scenario is that Vick will use his money to squeak out of this. Somebody in his circle will fall on a sword in exchange for financial security and Vick will get off with a handful of misdemeanor charges. There simply isn’t enough meat to the indictment to really put the heat on Vick. He faces a statutory maximum of six years but with no serious legal issues in his past it would be hard for any judge to justify a significant sentence. That puts Vick in the driver’s seat when it comes to negotiating a plea agreement.

Perhaps our legal system needs to put some teeth into laws prohibiting crimes against animals. The methods with which Vick and his cohorts are accused of disposing of under-performing animals are appalling but people get away with abusing animals every day. Have you ever seen chickens transported from one place to the next via flatbed? Do you know how that Butterball Turkey came to be? Where do we draw the line?

Americans hold certain animals in higher esteem than other cultures do. In this country dogs and cats become beloved members of our families but in other parts of the world dogs and cats are beloved parts of the menu. Saint Bernard is coveted for its tender, juicy meat and raised in many Asian countries the way we raise cattle in the United States. Ultimately it’s subjective. Cows are sacred in India and delicious in Indiana.

The court of the federal government might not be able to punish Michael Vick to our satisfaction but the court of public opinion can. Michael Vick is a public figure and his livelihood depends on his marketability as much as it does his athletic ability. Sports are not all about performance. The NFL is built around money. As talented as Michael Vick is, nobody would play him if his presence on a roster had a negative impact on ticket sales. The Atlanta Falcons would cut him without hesitation if people refuse to support the team as long as Vick is on it. The NFL would suspend Vick with extreme prejudice if such an action was necessary to remain in good standing fans.

The great thing about the court of public opinion is that it doesn’t have to be fair or just. Even if Michael Vick is the innocent victim of a poor choice of friends we can hold him accountable for that. The court of public opinion doesn’t owe anybody anything. It’s totally arbitrary and decidedly cruel. There’s no due process and everything is admissible. You are either in the court’s good graces or you are not.

So while the lawyers and the reporters and commissioners all tiptoe around the legal issues the general public can render its decision and put the screws to Michael Vick. Whether the criminal charges are substantial enough to stick or not, we have enough evidence on Michael Vick to render a decision. He’s a jerk with bad judgment and he is no longer worthy of our esteem. Punish him accordingly.

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