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ISSUE 118 VOL 13 PUBLISHED 3/11/2005

Stewart’s sentence absurd

By Peter Gloviczki
Opinion Editor


Friday, March 11, 2005

Martha Stewart was recently released from a federal women's prison in Alderson, W.Va, where she served five months for lying about a 2001 stock sale. As part of her sentence, Stewart will now spend the next five months in home detention at her 153-acre estate in Katonah, N.Y. This "punishment" is simply ridiculous. It hardly seems grueling to be confined inside such a large mansion. Moreover, Stewart will be allowed to leave her home 48 hours per week to work with the company that bears her namesake, Martha Stewart Living, Omnimedia Inc.

While Stewart will be required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet to monitor her movement during this home detention, I take issue with the nature of her sentencing. Specifically, I worry that Stewart is receiving an especially lenient sentence because of her celebrity status.

I understand that the American legal system is not an entirely equitable one in practice, and that some clients (especially high-profile individuals) can afford more skilled legal representation than others.

But the goal of the judicial system, at least in the strongest sense, is to provide fair and just sentencing to all individuals, regardless of their socio-economic status.

We must not accept the idea that "Life is simply unfair, and some people will get better treatment than others" as a maxim. The judicial branch is the precise place in which such divisions are supposed to be irrelevant, with each case judged solely on its legal merit.

Admittedly, there is no evidence that Stewart openly received special treatment. But I wonder how I, or one of my classmates, would be sentenced if we were in a similar situation. Would we receive a similar sentence – a home detention – as well?

Given that the law professes to treat individuals equally, I would hope that would be the case. But of what might this home detention consist for an average St. Olaf student?

Imagine this hypothetical scenario: After serving five months in jail for having insider knowledge about a stock, selling the stock based on that advice and then lying about the stock sale to the government (the crime of which Stewart was convicted), I would be released back into Mellby residence hall. This would be my version of "home detention." There, I would be able – like Stewart – to receive visitors, family and friends. I could leave my dorm to eat, attend classes and perform student work as the co-Opinions Editor for the Manitou Messenger.

Granted, I would bear the inconvenience of wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet, and I would only be allowed to walk to and from my classes, meals, the Messenger office and my dorm.

Does that sound like punishment to you? Frankly, the routine I just described seems to encapsulate my daily activities. I would love to participate in a variety of additional events and groups, and to go off-campus on a regular basis. But honestly, I just don't have the time. My central point is that Stewart's home detention does not seem like much of a punishment, because she will be allowed to resume many of her usual activities.

Certainly, Stewart does not have the option of doing many things she might enjoy, but her home detention nonetheless seems to be much more lenient than a prison term.

Most importantly, I worry that individuals without Stewart's celebrity status would not be granted such opportunities for home detention. They would instead be required to complete a prison term.

I am reminded of the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw, who wrote in the preface to “The Millionairess”: “The law is equal before all of us; but we are not all equal before the law. Virtually there is one law for the rich and another for the poor."

As we consider Stewart's sentence of home detention, it is clear that Shaw's words are not confined to the theatrical arena, because such injustices continue to thrive in 21st-century America.


Opinions Editor Peter Gloviczki is a junior from Rochester, Minn. He majors in political science and integrative studies.


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