Vick's future still up in air
Even with plea agreement, Judge plays key role
Posted: Friday August 24, 2007 3:43PM; Updated: Friday August 24, 2007 5:03PM
Earlier today, Michael Vick's attorneys filed a plea agreement confirming that their client will plead guilty to one count of "Conspiracy to Travel in Interstate Commerce in Aid of Unlawful Activities to Sponsor a Dog in an Animal Fighting Venture." Less technically, Vick has admitted to conducting business outside the state of Virginia, namely in the form of buying dogs from out-of-state owners, for the purpose of sponsoring dog fights in Virginia.
Vick also signed a statement of facts in which he admitted that "collective efforts" by him and two others caused the death of dogs. In other words, while Vick acknowledges his role as a member of a group whose actions led to the death of dogs, he has not admitted to individually harming or killing those dogs, or to directly gambling on dog fighting.
The plea agreement presents both short- and long-term implications for Vick. His immediate concern is how long he will be sentenced to prison. The charge to which he has pleaded is punishable by up to five years. As part of the plea deal, however, federal prosecutors will recommend to U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson a significantly shorter sentence. Keep in mind, however, Judge Hudson, who enjoys a reputation as tough sentencer, can ignore the prosecutors' recommendation and impose a harsher, or lighter, sentence.
Vick's admission of guilt, lack of criminal record and contention it was group, rather than individual, responsibility should weigh in his favor. Persons found guilty of animal cruelty, however, can stir the emotions of anyone, including a well-respected and thoughtful judge. Along those lines, while everyone wants to know how long Vick will serve, there are still significant gaps of information (e.g. the precise recommendation by prosecutors; whether Judge Hudson agrees with the recommendation) that prevent a sensible guess.
The plea is drafted much like a contract between parties seeking to enter into a contractual relationship, with each side prioritizing their objectives and assessing which goals they are most and least willing to obtain and relinquish in order to reach a deal. For Vick, I believe his attorneys most wanted their client to avoid admitting to gambling, in part because an admission of gambling might lead to a longer suspension from the NFL and also, possibly, to prevent the creation of more serious grounds for the Commonwealth of Virginia to bring state charges against Vick.
It's harder to speculate the feds' motivations, but one strong possibility is their evidence on Vick's involvement in gambling was considerably weaker than their evidence on his involvement in sponsoring dog fights. Another possibility is that they had concerns about going to trial, and namely about proving Vick's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt -- always a high threshold -- when Vick would have at his disposal a top legal team and considerable resources to develop ways to cast doubt on the charges.