The Aunt Becky story finally comes to a grossly inadequate close
today at 5:05 pm
The Aunt Becky story finally comes to a grossly inadequate close. Two months of prison time (which will likely be reduced to some sort of shorter house arrest given covid), a $150,000 fine, 100 hours of community service. Her husband Mossimo Giannulli got five months of jail time, a $250,000 fine, and 250 hours of community service. Both also received two years of “supervised release,” which I guess is probation. This, after the couple brazenly pleaded “not guilty” for the longest time. From a brief CNN article, it seems like the prosecution erred in delaying the release of some exculpatory evidence for months, which apparently tanked their case.
I think we over-incarcerate nonviolent criminals so while the jail time is extremely unfair compared to sentences received by BIPOC for lesser crimes, I’m not going to opine here. Plenty of discussion on that exists. I’m more focused on the other levers: the monetary fines and service hours that should have been multiples of what they were. How much leeway do judges have here? I don’t know, but 100 hours of community service is basically a few weeks of volunteering—it’s nothing. Why not at least two years of community service to make it transformative and meaningful? Not like either of these two goons will have a day job any time soon. Aren’t criminal sentences supposed to be partly about rehabilitation?
The money: their crime was a function of their privilege, so a proper sentence could have chipped away at that privilege. The couple paid at least $500,000 for Rick Singer’s services, and yet their combined financial penalty totaled only $400,000. Why not make the monetary fine equivalent to a small endowment to fund full scholarships at USC for the two slots they stole for their daughters? Ballpark estimate: it’s a $2 million fine. These are people of means—use those means to undo some of the harm.
I feel like monetary fines are vastly underutilized in white collar crime sentencing. If we agree that significant jail time essentially destroys a convicted criminal’s life (and that of the criminal’s family), the monetary fine, too, should be crippling. I’m thinking of the big banks that settled for all the Great Recession mortgage security frauds. If our criminal justice system refuses to convict white collar criminals, the bank settlements should have been financially devastating then to compensate for the lives they destroyed. Banks should have taken a financial hit large enough to require major restructuring and the killing off entire lines of business. This could have triggered the breaking up of big banks that many have called for. Instead, they, like all people/bastions of privilege, just got a slap on the wrist after promising to do better.
Remember on Gilmore Girls where Rory steals a yacht because Logan’s dad vaguely insulted her? (I can’t remember if that was the actual cause honestly, but that sounds about right, doesn’t it?) She got no jail time and 300 hours of community service. She raked like two leaves, and it was done. It’s funny because in the show it was painted as a severe punishment, when it is barely even an admonishment in reality. The judge sternly told Rory, “I understand that the defense is presenting this as ‘a childish lark, a youthful indiscretion.’ Well, I take the law very seriously. And if there’s one thing I have very little tolerance for, it’s rich, privileged children viewing the world as their private playground. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care who your family is. When you commit a crime, Miss Gilmore, there must be consequences, period. Twenty hours of community service won’t do it.” In other words, the fictional alternative to Rory’s sentence was not 500 hours (and a steep fine), but 20. She would have raked half a leaf instead of the two she raked on the show.
It’s an unfair comparison since it’s fiction, but it speaks to how ingrained white privilege is. Hollywood writers know how the justice system works for people with money and power. But with Rory’s 300 hours painted as severely punitive, the privilege of the writers themselves seems clear. They just had no sense of the real consequences that normal/underprivileged people face for even lesser crimes.