As for Scruggs, his attorneys are expected to talk about his generosity and his many contributions to society.
In a number of recent corruption cases across the nation, judges have leaned toward stiffer sentences, said Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.
“In these cases, the amount of cooperation with authorities is important and so is how contrite the person is,” he said. “The notion of bribing judges is pretty serious.”
In corruption cases, judges may feel a need to punish more severely to deter anyone else from committing similar crimes, he said.
Under federal sentencing guidelines – in place until 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional – federal judges had to deliver sentences within sentencing guidelines or explain why they didn’t. Now those guidelines are simply advisory.
“My gut feeling is every case stands on its own,” said former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones of Birmingham.
Under the law, a judge must decide on a sentence that metes out justice, he said.
“When you have a lawyer pleading guilty to corruption charges, it’s a real difficult burden for the judge,” he said. “On one hand, the lawyer is supposed to be devoted to the rule of law, and, in this instance, he crossed that rule of law. A judge has to look at punishment and deterrence.”
On the other hand, white-collar defendants typically have no criminal past and can have witnesses testify about the many good things they’ve done, he said. “The fact of the matter is Dickie Scruggs has helped an untold number of people through his legal career.”
Scruggs has been a lawyer “for a long time, and he’s had detractors for a long time because he’s been so successful,” Jones said.
Some supporters of Scruggs may seek a presidential commutation for him.
“Obviously, Scruggs has got an uphill battle because there are Justice Department guidelines for having a sentence commuted,” Jones said. “They are only guidelines. The president makes the final decision.”