I was infuriated by the New York Times article back in November. I’m glad Borker’s being punished, but it’s sad and revealing that the authorities did nothing until the NYT held a fire beneath them.
The delay before sentencing varies based on a number of factors.
First, if a sentencing hearing is necessary, it gets placed at the back of the court’s docket, after everything else already scheduled. At the hearing, the prosecution and defense argue about how much time the defendant deserves, based not only on what was proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, but on any evidence the judge deems relevant. Whether a hearing is necessary depends on whether the facts are disputed, the severity of the offense, whether the defendant pled guilty, and so forth. A guilty plea to a common misdemeanor like marijuana possession or driving with a suspended license often gets sentenced on the spot.
Second, a busy docket means a longer delay before the sentencing hearing is scheduled. Modern state courts are severely underfunded, and even federal courts like the court here make due on fairly little. A delay of a few months is not that bad, compared to, say, California state courts, where a run-of-the-mill civil case sometimes takes years to go to trial.
Third, if major, complex offenses are involved, the lawyers will want time to prepare for a sentencing hearing, so that they can gather evidence, submit briefs and get ready for oral argument. Mail fraud and wire fraud are fairly complex and serious as far as federal crimes go, and I expect the lawyers will spend a lot of time debating the appropriate punishment.
As for the sentencing issue, the vast discrepancy between the maximum time of 50 years and the likely time of one to eight years is, unfortunately, normal under modern criminal law. Back in the 1980s, when prosecutor’s offices and courts began to be underfunded, prosecutors started offering generous plea bargains to get cases out of the way. For example, if the crime called for up to five years in prison, the prosecutor would agree to recommend a one-year sentence if the defendant pled guilty from the start.
These low sentences gave fuel to Congress members engaged in the “war on crime,” who testified furiously about how major drug offenders and violent criminals were getting off with brief sentences. Rather than address the underfunding that encouraged plea bargaining, however, Congress just increased the maximum penalties for crimes. This did fix the problem with criminals pleading guilty getting off too lightly. The problem now is that, by refusing to plead guilty and seeking a trial, a defendant faces a high maximum sentence that is frighteningly disproportionate to the crime involved. For example, I believe that in Michigan, distributing a large amount of methamphetamines is a life offense.
Anyway, the key fact here is that Borker is pleading guilty, so the prosecution will be recommending far less than the maximum sentence–and perhaps declining to pursue more serious charges. Whether the judge will give Borker one year or eight years depends very much on the judge, so in that sense your guess is as good as mine. However, given the media attention to this case and Borker’s lack of remorse over his actions, I think six to eight years is more likely.