Commentary

Reporting early likely won't lighten Vick's prison sentence

Updated: November 20, 2007, 10:44 AM ET
By Lester Munson | ESPN.com

In a surprising move, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick surrendered to authorities on Monday to begin time in prison for federal dogfighting charges even before he is officially sentenced. Vick is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson on Dec. 10 in Richmond, Va. Vick's action raises a number of questions. Here are some of the questions and their answers:

Vick is only three weeks early in his decision to report to prison before the sentencing on Dec. 10. What difference does three weeks make?

It's a lot more than three weeks. Under normal procedures, Vick would be starting his sentence late in January or early in February. After Hudson pronounces a sentence on Dec. 10, Vick would ordinarily be waiting for eight to 10 weeks for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to decide where Vick will do his time. Reporting early means Vick could potentially expedite the process of putting his football career back together.

Is Vick trying to impress Hudson by going to prison early?

Yes. After he pleaded guilty to a brutal array of charges, Vick tested positive for marijuana. The test was performed by probation officers who work for the judge. It's the kind of thing that could easily add to Vick's time. By reporting as the holidays begin, Vick is trying to show remorse, contrition and acceptance of responsibility. Showing up early for prison is a more powerful statement than anything he or his lawyers might say in court. He is hoping that the judge will consider his early surrender as evidence of good citizenship and give him a break.

Will it work? Will reporting early reduce his potential sentence?

Probably not. Hudson is a career crime fighter; he has earned a reputation as a judge who is tough and uncompromising on sentences. Lawyers who appear before Hudson agree that he conducts a fair trial and follows the law meticulously, but the same lawyers shudder as they describe what happens if their clients are found guilty and face sentencing from Hudson.

The federal courthouse in Richmond, Va., is the home of the rocket docket. Things happen faster in this court than in any court in the U.S. By reporting early, is Vick trying to turn the court's focus on speedy justice into something that somehow helps him?

That might be exactly what he and his lawyers are trying to do. The federal judges in Virginia take great pride in their speed and efficiency. If they built a statue of Blind Justice outside the courthouse in Richmond, the blindfolded justice figure would be shown running full speed. Hudson has started each hearing in the Vick case at least five or 10 minutes early. Vick entered his guilty plea less than three months after federal agents raided the kennel on his land. Vick is letting Hudson know that he, too, is willing to move things quickly, showing up early, showing that he wants to bring things to a quick conclusion without the usual stalls and legal maneuvers.

Has this maneuver ever worked?

It might not work to reduce the sentence, but it could work as Vick tries to repair the damage to his image and reputation. Instead of awaiting the outcome of her appeal, Martha Stewart went to prison early and did her time. She easily could have waited for the decision from the higher court. Going to prison early and voluntarily was a major first step as Stewart began to rebuild her life and the process of repairing her business empire. Vick's action shows he is doing something smart, something that might be a first step back to football.

Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who has been reporting on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry for 18 years, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.