Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas pleaded guilty Friday to a felony for carrying an unlicensed pistol outside a home or business. Prosecutors recommend that he should serve no more than six months in jail. D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert E. Morin, however, will decide whether and how long Arenas will spend time behind bars. Arenas is scheduled to be sentenced March 26.
Judge Morin, a Massachusetts native who was appointed to the bench by President Bill Clinton, can sentence Arenas to up to five years. In addition to recommendations by prosecutors and Arenas' defense counsel, Judge Morin will receive a recommendation by a parole officer in the form of a pre-sentencing report, which takes into account the totality of Arenas' case. While he will also consult with sentencing guidelines, Judge Morin will decide the sentence, which Arenas cannot appeal as long as it does not exceed five years.
Judge Morin seems unlikely to impose a sentence in excess of the prosecutors' recommendation. While Arenas pleaded no contest in 2003 to a misdemeanor charge in California for illegally possessing a concealed weapon, he otherwise lacks the kinds of aggravating factors that would warrant a lengthy sentence. But there is no guarantee that he will avoid one. Recall what happened to Michael Vick: After he pleaded guilty to dogfighting charges, prosecutors recommended that he be sentenced to 12-to-18 months in prison. Judge Henry Hudson disagreed, instead sentencing Vick to 23 months. Therein lies the risk of entering into a plea deal; a defendant and prosecutors can "make a deal," but the judge decides whether to accept it.
Alternatively, Judge Morin could impose a sentence that includes incarceration, but enables Arenas to serve it on weekends or spend the latter portion of it in a halfway house, a community home designed to reintegrate people into society. Judge Morin could also sentence Arenas to spend all of the time in a halfway house.
Even better for Arenas, Judge Morin could sentence him to probation and a suspended sentence, meaning Arenas would avoid any type of incarceration, but would be subject to incarceration if he violated the terms of his probation. Probation would impose restrictions on Arenas' life, such as required meetings with a probation officer and avoidance of contact with known criminals, but would clearly be better than incarceration. Judge Morin may be concerned, however, that sentencing Arenas to a "light" punishment would be perceived as providing preferential treatment to a person of celebrity and affluence.
Once Judge Morin imposes his sentence, Arenas will have to serve at least 85 percent of any imposed incarceration, as is required by truth-in-sentencing policies. If Arenas avoids conflict while behind bars, he could earn "good time," but it would knock off only up to 15 percent of his time.
If Arenas is to be incarcerated, incarceration assignment authorities will take into consideration a variety of factors that generally work in Arenas' favor, which include his guilty plea, his lack of a worrisome criminal history and the fact that he may be a target of harm if housed in a facility with dangerous criminals. Arenas could be housed at D.C.'s Correctional Treatment Facility (CTF), which is located in Southeast D.C. and houses inmates who, based on their criminal charges and prior criminal and incarceration histories, are considered low- or medium-risk (as opposed to high-risk) inmates. The CTF is an annex to the D.C. Jail.
With the criminal process soon behind him, Arenas will turn his attention to his NBA suspension and the prospect of the Wizards' trying to terminate his contract or negotiate a buyout, which I detailed Thursday.
Also, even though his own criminal concerns will soon be determined, Arenas might be asked to work with prosecutors as they continue their investigation into whether teammate Javaris Crittenton loaded and cocked his own gun in a dispute with Arenas. Arenas would be a material witness in any prosecution of Crittenton, whose alleged gun has not yet been found by authorities.
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