Bernard Kerik Learns a Lesson

Chris Hayes (host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes) retweets earlier today:

Bernard Kerik during Better DaysConvicted felon Bernard Kerik was once one of Rudy Giuliani’s closest advisors. He was also the commissioner of corrections for New York City (1998-2000) and NYC’s police commissioner from 2000 to 2001.

At Rudy’s urging, Kerik was appointed interim Minister of Interior as part of the occupation of Iraq in 2003, and then nominated by George W. Bush for Secretary of Homeland Security in 2004.

Kerik was this close to being head of Homeland Security.

And then it all came undone. Kerik withdrew his name from consideration, claiming that he had unknowingly hired an undocumented worker as a housekeeper. Subsequent investigations resulted in a misdemeanor plea in a Bronx courtroom and an order to pay $221,000 in fines for two ethics violations relating to a loan and gift he received from a New Jersey construction firm.

In 2007, Kerik was indicted by a federal grand jury on tax violations, and ultimately pleaded guilty to a different set of charges arising out of the same conduct in Washington, DC. In 2009, Kerik pleaded guilty to eight felony tax charges and surrendered at a U.S. federal corrections institution in Cumberland, Maryland. He served more than three years in custody, and was released in 2013.

All of this is to say: Bernard Kerik went from heading some of the largest law enforcement agencies in the United States, and being placed before the Senate for consideration to head the Department of Homeland Security, before ending up as a convicted criminal.

That might be all.

Kerik on Mandatory Minimums

Today, Bernard Kerik is a chastened man. A man who now has had to serve time among the people he used to arrest and help imprison. He is those people. We are those people.

Kerik Learns LessonAnd what does he have to say?

Kerik recently told the Today Show’s Matt Lauer that he was “stunned” to learn that “for five grams of cocaine – which is what [a] nickel weighs, five grams – you could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.”

If the American people and members of Congress saw what I saw, there would be anger, there would be outrage, and there would be change, because nobody would stand for it.

The sad thing about it is that while this country imprisons a larger proportion of its population than any other first world country, and while this country hands out sentences longer than almost any other country, and while this country has a federal prison system that – on its own, and not including the individual state systems – is one of the largest in the world, too few people realize what awaits them or loved ones if they run afoul of the criminal justice system.

People – good people – routinely walk into my office, having committed a crime or having been accused of committing a crime, and are absolutely shocked by not only the minimal rights they have as criminal defendants, but at the sanctions that await them.

People make mistakes. Criminal acts that involve violence ought to be punished.

But in our world, while violent crime has been on the decrease since the 1980s, we have decided to imprison huge numbers of people the possession of substances, or for violations of laws in which there is no victim, other than the amorphous concept of “society.”

Lessons Learned

Bernard Kerik has learned that lesson, which is a good thing for him. It is unfortunately that it took making him a felon to do so, and that he was so close to living in a bubble in which he continued to serve as the enforcer of such laws.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.