Federal Criminal Justice Experience
As with many topics studied throughout ones education, the criminal justice system is one that is better learned through experience than from a textbook. The reality of what goes on in the system is far from what is portrayed in the media and on television shows such as Law & Order. For my particular experience I chose to attend and observe a sentencing hearing at the D.C. Federal District Court. The particular case I chose to observe was a fraud case, U.S. vs. Sarosh Mir.
This case, 09-cr-0191: USA v. Mir, took place in the D.C. Federal Courthouse, at 11:30 am in courtroom 27 A on Friday, April 16th. The judge presiding over the sentencing was Judge Henry H. Kennedy, and the prosecutor representing the United States was Thomas J. Hibarger. The defendant, Sarosh Mir, was represented by attorneys from Garbia, MacGregor & Plocki, LLP, Anthony Nourse, Ibrahim Moiz, and Todd MacGregor, however Mr. MacGregor was not present. Mr. Mir had previously pleaded guilty to charges of Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, which is a violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. The crimes committed by Mir and the other defendants occurred during his employment with Innovative IT Solutions Incorporated, from July 2008 to March 2009. Essentially Mir and the others defrauded the D.C. government by creating false and dishonest timesheets and creating false invoices for services that were never performed. There were many ways they executed the scheme; initially they would use the names of actual employees on the timesheet, however they would inflate the hours they worked. Additionally, the defendants created “ghost employees”, using the names of real people who did not work for the company to create fraudulent timesheets. In both of these cases the purpose of the schemes were to overcharge the D.C. government and take in a personal profit. Although Mr. Mir did not personally benefit from the scheme, he was held liable for his involvement in the fraud.
In July of 2009, Mir, under the advisement of his counsel, agreed to waive the right to a grand jury indictment and plead guilty to the crime. The charge, Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud, carries with it a penalty of a maximum of five years in prison, a fine of no more than $250,000, a special assessment, a three-year probation period, and an order of restitution. By admitting guilt and accepting the plea, Mir hoped that his penalty would be much more mild than that, according to the United States Sentencing Commission’s Guidelines Manual. Given that Mr. Mir had no prior criminal record, and his crime, though financially injurious, were not very severe, therefore his Guideline Offense Level was relatively low. In accordance with the Guidelines, and as part of the plea agreement, the government (prosecutor) agreed that a penalty of a fine on the lower end of the range and a sentence of home confinement, instead of imprisonment, were appropriate.
My preconceived notions about what the courthouse would appear as were proved incorrect when I arrived there. I had expected it to be similar to other courthouses I had seen, such as the Supreme Court located close by however it was more similar to many of the office buildings in the area. As I entered I expected the lobby to be filled with groups of attorneys and defendants awaiting their opportunities for justice, on the contrary the lobby was empty save for a few security guards manning the metal detectors. The security seemed stricter than I had initially expected, as I was forced to surrender my cell phone because it had a camera in it. Furthermore the woman who entered the court before I was subject to a bag check because the officer was suspicious of an item in her bag which actually turned out to be nothing but a hair clip. As I walked through the courthouse I was surprised to see that it was almost entirely empty and I felt as though I had the opportunity to wander almost anywhere I pleased. As I approached the courtroom, I was surprised to see the Judges’ name outside with a list of all the cases he would be hearing for the day. It is possible that I was just unversed in the ways of the criminal justice system, but I had never realized that when a judge used the phrase “My court”, he really meant it, as he was the only judge to hear cases in that room. Before the sentencing got underway I noticed two younger men in the hallway, talking over specifics of the case, specifically about the need to confirm the proposed plea agreement with the prosecutor. I later found out these men were the defense attorneys, although they looked they were fresh out of law school and had never stepped foot in a federal court before. As I expected there were very few people in the courtroom, besides myself, there were a few other spectators, including the defendant’s wife, and the normal courtroom actors: the judge, court reporters, defense attorneys, prosecutors, probation officer and the court marshal. Before the judge entered the room the defendant’s wife, who seemed very anxious about her husband’s fate leaned to me and told me that her husband had been set up by his company and the defense attorney’s were incompetent, she even went as far as to ask me, sarcastically, if I could represent him instead.
As the sentencing proceeded, it was apparent that the judge was in complete control of the courtroom. He advised all parties of the proceedings, first the defense would plead their case, followed by the prosecution, then the defense would have a chance to rebut if they were uneasy about anything the prosecutor had said, and finally the defendant himself would be able to share his opinions with the judge. The young defense attorney then began his speech, noting the terms of the proposed plea agreement, he argued his client, although knowingly involved in the scheme to defraud the United States government, he was a minimal participant in the acts, therefore deserved a more lenient punishment. He stated that unlike the other defendants, his client gained nothing out of the scheme, besides job security and his superiors reaped all the benefits. His proposed a punishment of six months of home detention along with a probation period. The attorney further argued his point but his nervousness was evident, enough so that the judge requested that he slow his speech. He argued that Mr. Mir was set up by his superiors, and although he knew what he was doing was unethical, he feared he would be fired if he did not cooperate. He also stated that the defendant was more than cooperative with FBI agents and the internal investigators, and was the first to step up and help with the investigation. This showed that he had respect for the law, which was also apparent by the fact that the defendant had no previous criminal record.
After the defense attorney finished his statement, the prosecutor took the podium. He started by saying that he agreed with everything the defense had to say. The prosecutor then began to delve into the actual crime and explained that the defendant et al created a scheme, which involved charging the government for services that were never performed. He then reminded the judge that although the defendant may have been naïve of the consequences and did not benefit from the scheme, he was still guilt of the crime. He argued that a reasonable person would have said, “This is wrong” and backed out of the operation.
Next to take the podium was the defendant himself, Mr. Mir. He began by admitting his guilt and declaring that he was both sorry and remorseful for his mistakes. He then reiterated most of what his attorney had said, claiming he was a minimal participant in the scheme and he continued to be involved out of fear that he would lose his job. He then explained the troubles he has faced since the charges were brought against him, including the loss of his job and healthcare coverage for his family amongst other things. As the defendant was speaking, I noticed his wife across the room was getting very emotional. In an unexpected and compassionate gesture, the court marshal gave tissues to the woman. This gesture was not only unexpected but showed a human element to a system that many times feels soulless and indifferent to those involved. After the defendant was finished with what he had to say, the judge offered his sentiment. He agreed with the defense and the defendant on the basis that the crimes committed were out of character and perhaps the defendant was naïve of the consequences. He empathized with the defendant on the fact that the situation he was in is one that nobody wants to go through and can be especially difficult for loved ones. However he did mention, “ Some of what was said would suggest you did not commit a crime, that however is untrue”. The judge reminded everyone involved that although the defendant may not have meant to cause harm in the situation, what he did was a crime and there are repercussions.
After hearing the arguments of the defense, prosecutor and the defendant the judge determined the sentence to be a monetary assessment, a large sum of restitution to be paid joint and several amongst the multiple defendants and a probation period of twenty-four months. The defendant will have to pay no less than $75 per month on the restitution until it is paid in full to the Chief Technology Officer of the District of Columbia. Additionally the defendant will have to provide a DNA sample and cannot incur any new credit charges or open any new credit lines without the consent of the probation office. The judge also imposed a sentence of 80 hours of community service to be completed at no less than 10 hours per month, citing that the defendant is very intelligent and can contribute to society in order to enlighten others. Lastly, the defendant was permitted 14 days to appeal the sentence.
Based on what I have learned about the procedures and policies involved with the criminal justice system, I feel the defendant was served a fair sentence. Though I would expect to have a slight bias, seeing as Mr. Mir was truly a right-minded individual, and respectful of the law, he was involved with fraudulent practices and should receive punishment to learn a lesson. After all, he was able to avoid imprisonment and the fine put on him was not too severe, seeing as it is expected that the other defendants will pay a larger proportion because they saw the monetary benefits of the crime. Additionally, I believe that imposing mandatory community service is beneficial for all parties involved. Not only will others benefit from the defendant’s insight and assistance, but the defendant can also learn a great deal about others and himself simultaneously.
Although my said involvement with the criminal justice system may look amateur to a seasoned criminologist, much has been gained from my experienced. I learned that the system does not only involve rugged criminals, who have no respect for authority and irritable judges who will do anything to get their point across. Many of the people who go through this system are respectful of society and either are unaware of the consequences or crime or are left with almost no choice but to commit these acts. From an outsiders perspective it is hard empathize with the reality that faces people when they receive their punishments, but I do know it has a tremendous effect on their lives and the lives of everybody around them. It is sad to see what can happen to these people, and those who depend on them, as their aspirations can crumble into nothing because of the burdens an unfavorable criminal record can place on them.