Let No Huffman Go Free

The government asked for a month. The defense asked for probation. District of Massachusetts Judge Indira Talwani split the difference, imposing a sentence of 14 days incarceration (plus a $30,000 fine and 250 hours of community service, which nobody bothers to notice since only jail time seems to matter to outsiders) on Felicity Huffman.

Naturally, this “light” sentence, when a faithful application of 18 U.S.C. § 3553 would have been a slam dunk for probation, revealed the festering boil of hypocritical pus of the unduly passionate.

And indeed, the government played the idiot’s game in its effort to make sure Huffman saw a cell.

In arguing that the parents in this case should go to prison, prosecutors had pointed to examples of defendants like Kelley Williams-Bolar, an African-American single mother in Akron, Ohio, who was sentenced to five years in prison — a sentence later suspended to 10 days in jail, three years of probation and community service — for using her father’s address to get her children into a nearby suburban school district. They also pointed to a group of black public schoolteachers, principals and administrators in Atlanta, who were convicted in a conspiracy to cheat on state tests, some of whom were sentenced to as much as three years in prison.

Putting aside the “technical” differences of jurisdiction and law, the government’s argument, like the uber-woke, plays race and wealth as the deciding factor, using it to argue that this rich white woman should serve time because she’s rich and she’s white. On the flip side, the government didn’t argue that these cases in Akron and Atlanta reflected grave excesses imposed on defendants, whether because the states are just horrendously harsh or discriminate by imposing excessive sentences on defendants who are black.

“If we believe in just punishment,” [AUSA Eric S. Rosen] added, “we should not put the Williams-Bolars in jail while letting the Huffmans go free.”

Just punishment? Nope, it’s give the rich white woman more, not the poor black people less. And progressives cheer their passionate little heads off at this calibration of “justice,” but then, this was Felicity Huffman. and everything about this scandal stunk of the influence of wealth and power at the expense of the poor. If this was a role for Huffman, it would be Marie Antoinette.

For reasons people refuse to ponder, likely because thinking is hard and can cause a painful headache, sentences of incarceration aren’t based on some magical numbers that serve some legitimate purpose. People have been groomed to believe that there is some magic to the numbers, but it’s nonsense. Mostly, their grasp of sentences is a product of relativity; if this guy got a year, then that guy should get ten because it feels ten times worse.

Mind you, this fails in any way to take into account the law, the purposes of sentence and the individual circumstances of the offense and the offender. But hey, gut reactions are the best reactions, especially when they offer the opportunity to get your outrage juices flowing.

The comparison of outcomes between Huffman and others may reflect differences in law, in jurisdiction, in facts and in representation. It’s certainly true that wealthier people can afford better lawyers, better investigation, more time to spend working on the defense and the unpleasant reality that judges and prosecutors may be far more harsh in their treatment of some defendants over others. But the key is harshness, not leniency.

The government’s argument, seizing upon the cries of the woke to use it against what they would recognize as their interests if they weren’t such simpletons obsessed with hating their disfavored defendants, is to ratchet up punishment so everyone should be treated too harshly rather than everyone should be sentenced more leniently. It’s apparently more satisfying to inflict pain on the disfavored than reflect on the irrationality of their shrieks.

But the argument wasn’t really the justification for incarceration, no matter how well it played with the useful idiots. The argument was that a message had to be sent to rich white celebrities that they can’t use their richness, their whiteness, their celebrity, to game the system, to gain an advantage that the poorest, the blackest, the least known, don’t enjoy.

“It can’t be the case that Ms. Huffman should be treated more harshly because of her financial circumstances and her notoriety,” [Huffman’s lawyer, Martin Murphy] said.

But it can be. It shouldn’t, but it can be in a world where being a wealthy celebrity is the new detriment, an inchoate offense waiting for the opportunity to punish for doing better than those doing the worst among us? It’s not a crime to be poor, but it’s not a crime to be rich either. Or at least it didn’t used to be.

The “send a message” argument, beyond the general recognition that it’s a palliative argument, one that sounds fairly reasonable but doesn’t have any meaning in the real world because people either don’t think about such things until after it’s too late or because nobody believes they’re going to be the one to get caught, is particularly absurd here.

There isn’t a rich person, a celebrity, a person of any color with the capacity to buy their kid a better SAT score for $15 grand, who isn’t aware of what happened to Huffman, et al. They are watching beloved people destroyed before their very eyes. They are watching careers ruined, fortunes blown, reputations forfeited. They are seeing the children of the rich and famous reduced to crying pawns. They know. If they need a message, it’s already been sent. Fourteen days in jail adds nothing.

But how can this be “justice” when Kelly Williams-Bolar was sentenced to five years in prison?

David Singleton, the executive director of the Ohio Justice and Policy Center, who represented Ms. Williams-Bolar in successfully seeking clemency in her case, said that there were indeed disparities in the justice system.

“When you are rich — and particularly if you’re rich and white in this country — there’s a different justice system,” he said. But, he added, “Sending Felicity Huffman to jail is not going to solve that problem.”

The solution isn’t be more harsh to rich white famous people, but it does sate the blood lust of the unduly passionate, who are every bit as vicious and carceral as their opposition, but just toward a different sort of defendant.

9 thoughts on “Let No Huffman Go Free

  1. Guitardave

    So ya think the twiterati are basking in the glow of a message well sent?
    PS: How many times do we have to show you what “fair” looks like, Harrison …?

  2. wilbur

    A tangent, if I may: When I bought gas for my car this morning, I saw the local Ft. Lauderdale paper with a top, front page headline “Huffman gets 14 days in prison”.

    First, I had to figure out who Huffman is. The first word of the sub-heading was “actress”, which then fired off a neuron in my memory.

    But then something about that headline just didn’t sound right.

  3. Richard Kopf


    Unfortunately, I clicked on and then read “the unduly passionate” from beginning to end. I now intend to lobotomize myself.

    All the best.


  4. B. McLeod

    The federal resources devoted to this whole thing are simply mind-boggling. The day after this case is over, university admissions will continue to be gamed in a thousand different ways. All the children of all the defendants will still get into (and be papered by) reasonably respectable universities, and will matriculate with no student debt and one or more trust funds. Throughout the land, children of wealthy celebrities will continue to have multiple, unearned, lifetime advantages over the children of the unknown poor. “The sun comes up, the sun goes down, the hands on the clock keep going around.” Our tax dollars at work.

    1. SHG Post author

      There’s gaming and there’s gaming. I would do almost anything to help my kids succeed, but I wouldn’t do what she did. Maybe that’s just me.

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