Saturday, July 19, 2008

Judge in Health Care Fraud Case Rejects Guilty Plea

In a highly unusual move, a federal judge in Oakland, California has rejected a defendant's guilty plea because of doubts as to whether the individual actually committed all of the elements of the crime to which he agreed to plead. According to the transcript from the case, Judge Saundra Armstrong stated, "It is not my practice to accept guilty please from people who are not guilty."

The defendant, Chi Yang, agreed to plead guilty in connection with fraudulent sales made by his Dublin, California based biotech company. The guilty plea was to be to charges of false statements, not fraud, but the agreement would have resulted in prison time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and restitution.

This case brings up the interesting question of whether a defendant should be permitted to plead guilty to a crime that he or she did not commit and that carries a lighter sentence, instead of going to trial on a charge to which her or she may be guilty and which carries a longer sentence. In a pure bargaining environment, this would be permitted because both the defendant and the government would receive a benefit from the bargain. The defendant would receive a lighter sentence, and the government would save the resources associated with a trial. But such agreements are not permitted in the federal criminal system. Prosecutors cannot offer, defendants cannot accept, and judges may not approve guilty please to conduct for which the defendants are not guilty. In reality, however, this likely happens almost every day. So the lingering questions becomes, should we legitimize this process? And, is there a difference between an individual and a corporation accepting such a deal?

See the full article here.

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