Seventh Circuit Upholds Blagojevich Sentence

Standing at the podium beside then-Congressman Rahm Emanuel, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich addresses a crowd about Medicare legislation.

CHICAGO (CN) – Just three days after hearing oral arguments, the Seventh Circuit affirmed disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence on Friday, finding the term justified and within the trial judge’s discretion.

The Chicago-based appeals court made short work of Blagojevich’s appeal this week, apparently needing very little time to consider his argument that the sentencing judge did not adequately take into account his rehabilitation efforts.

In 2011, a federal jury found Blagojevich guilty of 17 out of 20 federal corruption charges, including trying to sell former President Barack Obama’s vacant Senate seat.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced him to 14 years in prison, a below-guidelines sentence.

On his first appeal, the Seventh Circuit threw out five counts against Blagojevich, including those involving Obama’s Senate seat, because the jury instructions were misleading.

Zagel again sentenced Blagojevich to 14 years in prison, which would put his release date at May 2024.

On a second appeal, the former governor asked the Seventh Circuit in oral arguments Tuesday to vacate the sentence, arguing that Zagel was required to consider the many letters sent by inmates testifying as to Blagojevich’s changed character.

The judges asked almost no questions Tuesday, and issued a short opinion affirming the 14-year sentence on Friday.

“Blagojevich’s treatment of fellow inmates may show that outside of office he is an admirable person,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote for a three-judge panel, “but the court was entitled to impose punishment that reflects how Blagojevich behaved when he had a different menu of opportunities and to deter those who hold office today.”

Judge Easterbrook noted that the panel’s vacatur of five counts against Blagojevich in 2015 did not mean he was innocent of the charges.

Zagel presided over both of the former governor’s lengthy trials, the first of which ended in a hung jury, and is in the best position to consider all the evidence even though the state elected not to retry the five vacated counts, the Seventh Circuit found.

“As with many discretionary subjects the fact that a judge could have ruled otherwise does not imply that the judge was compelled to rule otherwise,” the six-page opinion states. (Emphasis in original.)