Michael Vick and State Charges

I have received a fair number of emails on Michael Vick’s plea, which should come as a surprise to no one. This is the type of crime that puts a defendant instantly on the bad side of any jury. The most that a defense attorney could hope for is a hung jury in most such cases.

I have no sympathy for Vick who not only engaged in a cruel and medieval form of entertainment, but he threw away a career that millions of kids can only dream of. However, I am concerned about the threat today of state charges. For people who believe that this is double jeopardy, you are both right and wrong. Technically, it is not. Federal and state charges increasingly overlap and the Supreme Court has held that they are sufficiently different to pass constitutional muster. However, on a practical level, such charges are a form of double conviction for the same offense. The reason for this practice is the failure of Congress to show some restraint in the federalizing of crimes — leaving such crimes with the states. Because Vick cross state lines, he immediately triggered federal jurisdiction. I have considerable trouble with this practice, which allows prosecutors to pile on defendants and pursue high-profile defendants.

Vick’s likiely sentence of around 18 to 24 months is about right for the crime. I am glad to see us punishing such individuals for this cruel sport of dog fighting. However, it undermines the legal system to have a free-for-all among prosecutors to get their own pound of celebrity flesh.

Jonathan Turley