When actress Felicity Huffman announced she would plead guilty to charges related to the college admissions scandal, she expressed unwavering remorse for her actions.
“I am in full acceptance of my guilt, and with deep regret and shame over what I have done, I accept full responsibility for my actions and will accept the consequences that stem from those actions,” she wrote. “I am ashamed of the pain I have caused my daughter, my family, my friends, my colleagues and the educational community.”
Legal experts said her willingness to speak out about her actions — and the relatively small amount she paid to help get her daughter into college — could help her avoid time behind bars when she is sentenced in Boston federal court.
Huffman was one of the first parents in the scandal to announce her guilty plea. And her handling of the matter is instructive, the experts said.
What kind of prison time is Huffman facing?
Lawyers with experience in such cases say there is a strong prospect that she will get electronic monitoring and not actual prison time.
“She was first out the gate to take responsibility and will be handsomely rewarded for it, especially if the other defendants drag their feet, which [we’re] beginning to see,” said Louis Shapiro, a federal defense attorney in Los Angeles, who believes her lawyers can easily argue her crimes aren’t the kind worthy of prison.
Manny Medrano, a defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, said that, based on 2019 federal sentencing guidelines, Huffman would likely face from four to 10 months in prison as part of her plea. Federal prosecutors have recommended the low end of that scale to the judge.
What is weighing in her favor?
Prosecutors said Huffman paid $15,000 for a 36-year-old Harvard graduate to correct her daughter’s answers on the SAT, giving the girl a 400-point boost over a previous score. Huffman later discussed pursuing a similar scheme for her younger daughter, according to court records. The relatively small amount of money involved also helps cast her apart from some of the parents who forked over as much as $500,000 to the mastermind of the scheme, William “Rick” Singer, Shapiro said.
Her sentencing recommendation is low because she has no criminal history and because the amount of money involved is relatively small, Medrano said.
Dmitry Gorin, a former prosecutor in Los Angeles who regularly defends high-profile clients, said the agreement allows her legal team to argue for no prison time at all.
“In federal court, the judge has the legal discretion to not follow the sentencing guidelines, as they are advisory, not mandatory,” he said. “A person with no criminal history with no serious criminal intent and a strong law-abiding background should not be sent to prison.”
“I suspect her lawyers will do everything they can to highlight these points and keep her out of prison,” he added.
They said the judge could allow her to serve her sentence at home wearing an ankle monitor instead of going behind bars.
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SOURCE: The Los Angeles Times, Richard Winton