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Is Blago A Flight Risk?

By Sam Singer

Just as I began to warm to the image of our former governor perched on a tree stump in the middle of the jungle, his face grimy and smeared with war paint, his balance wavering, it occurred to me: Will a court really let Blagojevich skip to Costa Rica to star in a "Survivor-like" reality TV series weeks before standing trial in a massive corruption case?

Upon his release from federal custody, Blago signed a bond agreement that does not permit him to leave the United States. His lawyers said they will seek permission from the court to amend the bond. This will require a hearing in which a federal judge will consider whether loosening travel conditions will reduce the likelihood that Blagojevich appears at trial. Prosecutors will try to paint the former governor as a flight risk. Defense attorneys will stress the implausibility of fleeing in such a controlled setting, what with NBC converting a Central American nation into a giant, canopied TV studio. Jetting off would also mean abandoning his family, and our former governor is nothing if not a family man.

In considering the motion to amend the bond, the presiding judge will weigh a number of factors, some favoring Blagojevich, some not.

Supporting the governor's motion is his otherwise clean criminal record. Blagojevich has never fled from justice, and until his recent run-in with federal racketeering law, had never encountered the cold steel grip of a handcuff.

The governor's citizenship also weighs in his favor. Courts regularly deny pre-trial release for non-citizens. This is particularly common when a defendant faces deportation - Blagojevich unfortunately does not - and when a party holds valuable assets oversees - also improbable in Blago's case, if we're to take anything from his pitiful efforts to supplement his salary.

On the other side of the scale is the high probability of a conviction and a serious punishment, a factor courts consider in determining the likelihood of a defendant skipping bail. Without prejudging, we can conclude with some certainty that the government will prevail on at least one of its nineteen counts. Patrick Fitzgerald's mother didn't raise a fool. When a first-rate prosecutor like Fitzgerald spends two years building a criminal case, you better believe the facts will bear it out.

A lack of employment is another common indicator of flight risk. With this factor, the law presumes a salaried defendant is a stationary one. This cuts both ways for Blago, who, although shamed and unemployable, has collected some lucrative appearance fees on his way down from grace. In the process, Blago has cultivated a bizarre self-caricature in the media, a can't-quite-turn-away persona that's brought him out of political purgatory and onto the talk-show circuit. What's left for our beleaguered governor, a savvy defense lawyer might ask, but reality TV?

Reasonable judges may disagree about the proper scope of Blago's release conditions. But flight risk or not, Blago seems to be having a bit too much fun riding the waves of this scandal, and there is something unsettling about letting his bizarre road show go on. That's not to say I wouldn't watch. Maybe the judge will feel the same way.

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Sam Singer is the Beachwood's legal correspondent. He welcomes your comments.

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Previously by Sam Singer:
* Is TARP legal? Court to decide on laugh test.

* Taking Government Out Of The Marriage Business. Separating church and state.

* Chicago's Disorderly Conduct. Dissent allowed even in Daleyland

* Why Google Will Win. Newspapers are on the wrong side of the digital revolution.




Permalink

Posted on April 16, 2009


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