If a plaintiff and a defendant agree to a civil settlement, judges generally do not interfere. Why, then, should they in criminal cases (especially if judges are supposed to be umpires as Chief Justice Roberts has commented)?
The Herald covers the latest example in a medicare fraud case where the defendants were sentenced to 5 years more than the parties jointly had asked for:
U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga gave the Guilarte sisters — who fled to Latin America in 2007 when they learned they were under federal investigation — five more years than prosecutors and defense attorneys had agreed on in their plea agreements, which charged a pair of healthcare-fraud and money-laundering conspiracies.
The judge said her initial intentions were to sentence the sisters to maximum prison terms — 30 years — but she was “tempered” by the disparity with lower sentences already imposed on other defendants in the Caridads’ case and related Detroit investigations.
The Guilarte sisters, who were indicted in Detroit in 2009, asked to have their case transferred to their hometown in Miami after they fled to Venezuela and were arrested in Colombia earlier this year. Miami is widely recognized as the nation’s Medicare fraud capital, where sentences keep getting stiffer and stiffer.
“We are tired of seeing the brazen, callous manner with which countless people defraud our Medicare system,” Altonaga declared. “We must stop the epidemic. ... Both of you took what you learned in South Florida and exported it to Michigan.”
Altonaga reminded Caridad, 54, and Clara, 57, that the United States welcomed both with “open arms” from Communist Cuba and that they returned the privilege by stealing millions from the U.S. government’s healthcare program for the elderly and disabled.
The Justice Department said the sisters — Caridad is a legal permanent resident, Clara a naturalized U.S. citizen — personally pocketed $3.8 million from their HIV-therapy scam in Detroit but none of that money has been recovered. Both sisters apologized to the judge and U.S. government, saying they “must pay” for their theft.
But the judge didn’t buy it, saying at one point to Clara: “Even though you say you must pay, I have every conviction you will not pay.”
I have never seen a judge go lower than a joint recommendation of the parties; only higher. But maybe I'm missing something. Any thoughts?