Monday, December 10, 2007

So, What Next?

It’s hard to say whether Michael Vick’s 23 month sentence fits the crime or not. On one hand, by legal definition, dogs are simply property. In recent years steps have been taken to enforce animal cruelty legislation but penalties are sometimes laughable. You would face more severe consequences for getting pulled over with a bong in your front seat than you would if you happened to be dragging a dog behind your car.

On one hand, Vick didn’t hurt anybody. He ran an illegal dog fighting ring. The 23 months he was sentenced to serves as punishment for breaking interstate commerce laws. The animal cruelty charges carried minor penalties. Ultimately Vick didn’t commit a crime against another person. He is not a threat to himself or others. So 23 months seems kind of steep, if you’re being objective.

Of course it’s hard to be objective. Like so many people, I too love dogs. It’s really hard for me to dismiss Vicks crimes as victimless when I think about what dog fighting entails. Even if Vick hadn’t been accused of brutally exterminating dogs that didn’t perform to his expectations I would still want to see a sentence of significant duration. Even if Vick walks the straight and narrow in prison the best he can hope for is to trim three months off his sentence. That means he’ll be in prison until the summer of 2009. That’s a long time. Long enough to drive home a powerful message.

I have no doubt that Vick’s days of dabbling in illegal enterprises are over. I have serious doubts as to whether or not I could handle nearly two years of incarceration. That’s a long time to sit in stir. Vick’s punishment, however, goes well beyond the prison sentence. He has become a pariah. He stands to loose millions of dollars while he is in prison while former employers and sponsors seek to recoup money paid to Vick in good faith that he would remain a respectable spokesman. Vick could emerge from prison carrying substantial debt with no means to earn an income sufficient to recoup his losses. The NFL is not obliged to reinstate him and even if he does get a nod from Commissioner Roger Goodell, Vick will not command a high salary.

The question is whether or not this is worthwhile. Vick’s punishment is fair provided it helps discourage the underground activity of dog fighting. If the Federal Court pursues less recognizable practitioners with similar zeal we might take a big step toward putting an end to the brutal endeavor. If the Court continues to treat low profile suspects with kid gloves then Vick’s punishment is nothing but window dressing and it will prove to be horrible unfair and arbitrarily punitive.

Michael Vick’s received his punishment. He is on his way to paying his debt to society. Now it’s time to let Michael Vick go about the business of earning a second chance. Rather than worrying about what will happen when Vick gets out of prison we need to focus on the criminal justice system. Was this just a good show for the cameras?