Monday, September 10, 2018

The McNaughton story ends: plea deal, deferred sentence

Via Anon105PM, a coda to the Brian McNaughton story - the inevitable plea deal (article at The Chronicle of Higher Education, written by Jack Stripling): 
Brian McNaughton, the former Colorado State University professor who was charged with a felony for fabricating a job offer to secure a pay raise, reached a plea deal this week that will allow his case to be dismissed in a year if he remains law abiding and completes 100 hours of community service. 
Under the agreement, McNaughton pleaded guilty to attempting to influence a public servant, a crime punishable by up to six years in prison. He was granted a deferred sentence, however, making him eligible to withdraw his guilty plea in a year if he complies with the terms of the deal. In addition to community service, McNaughton must complete a “cognitive thinking class.” 
McNaughton declined to comment on the plea deal.
(Read the whole thing here.)

I don't really think that Brian McNaughton deserves prison time, in the sense that the injured party with standing (the taxpayers of Colorado, presumably) probably should reserve prison for those who are most in need of being kept apart from society. But if Brian McNaughton had been a cashier at a grocery store and stolen $5000 from the till, would he have gone to prison? Probably, I dunno.

I can't help but notice something that happens when professors are charged with crimes: the system-as-a-whole (prosecutors, defense attorneys, employers, judges) delivers a result that consistently avoids prison. I have plenty of biases and thoughts about the criminal justice system in America, but the overriding one is this: if we have one set of punishments for those who have money and status, but another for those who do not, we don't have a system that is delivering justice.

23 comments:

  1. This is the one to read and it goes deep into it.

    https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/big-lie

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    1. What a mess that story is. Financially over-extended, marital problems due to money/status and a guy that sounds like he needs his ego stroked every few days.

      I also can't believe that he thought they'd never check with U of Minn to see if the offer was real.

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  2. "[I]f we have one set of punishments for those who have money and status, but another for those who do not, we don't have a system that is delivering justice."

    CJ, the cashier who took $5000 from the till is a common criminal. The chemistry professor who fabricated a letter is an uncommon criminal. Both should remember the principle of A. V. Barletta, don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

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    1. Barletta? It's Baretta, and you can take dat to the bank.

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    2. Soory. I must proofread more carefully.

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  3. In academia the system is also twisted: If you are a Ph.D. student and a committee finds out you were faking data, your Ph.D. gets revoked. If you are the mentor of the student faking data, you get tenure.

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    1. It's all true. If you don't want to fake data you get thrown out. If you demand that the postdoc fake data you get tenure. (I did get a settlement out of the institution, though.)

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    2. chemjobber@gmail.com if you'd like to share more details.

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    3. Surely Anon@10:01AM is referring to Bengu Sezen & Dalibor Sames.

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  4. My own opinion - when the person at trial is similar in societal status to the prosecuting attorney and the judge, that person is likely to get a lighter sentence, or as in this case, no real sentence at all, and even the chance to withdrawn their guilty plea. What I mean is that the prosecuting attorney and the judge in this case see before them a white person who is highly educated, who has no criminal past, and who did what they did for career advancement - all things the attorney and judge can readily identify with. They may well identify with McGraw's predicament of having a wife nagging him to make more money. And presto - a light sentence. Yeah, not fair at all.
    I've seen the same sort of thing at a former employer - a purchasing clerk who fudged some purchasing orders loses their job. But a upper manager who instructs the purchasing clerk to fudge the purchasing orders, to use company money to buy golf clubs and fancy Swiss pens - he gets to retire early, with his pension and other benefits intact. So much for justice.

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  5. I would call these white collar crimes.

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  6. All comments on injustice and prejudice aside, well over 90% of court cases settle out of court. As I am sure you all know, when you settle for a guilty plea, your end of the bargain is a significantly reduced sentence. As the maximum sentence was only 6 years (ie. the theoretical maximum the judge could have given him in the worst case scenario where the book was thrown at him with full force), then it is really not surprising at all that he received no jail time for taking a guilty plea. Also considering that he is facing 100h community service and reeducation, has been forced to pay back what he owes, and that the "victim" of his crime was the abstract and collective taxpayer. I think the judge should be given some credit.

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    1. "He was granted a deferred sentence, however, making him eligible to withdraw his guilty plea in a year if he complies with the terms of the deal."

      At the end, there will be no guilty plea, yes?

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    2. Yes. The deferred sentence is a part of the plea bargain. To get a deferred sentence you have to agree to the plea deal, ie. you must plead guilty. Then after serving the probationary sentence that comes with the plea deal, the guilty plea is thrown out. This is very standard for first time offenders doing small crimes like this.. it is not some white privilege or perk of being a professor.

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    3. "it is not some white privilege or perk of being a professor."

      If it's me you're addressing, Anon, I think you're reading political intent into the last paragraph of my post that isn't really there. Perhaps I don't have as much knowledge of the criminal justice system as you.

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  7. What I found interesting was how academia quietly swept the whole affair under the rug until the DA charged him with a felony. Reminds me of the Catholic Church abuse scandal somewhat. At least no children were molested in this case, though. The Chronicle article implies that his ex-wife vindictively set in motion his downfall. Don't cheat on your wife, guys! ;)

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    1. When I was in grad school, there was a strong culture of silence when it came to the department's dirty laundry. I think there are a lot of parallels between academia and the Catholic Church when it comes to protecting the institution at all costs and hushing up anything that might be embarrassing to senior officials, such as the Jerry Sandusky coverup at Penn State.

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  8. Never underestimate an institution's desire to save face. They could've fired him and revealed the whole thing in 2017 and lost very little face (prevented by the sunk cost fallacy? as per 8/3 post. Or the friendly relationship with the dean? or the general desire to lose no face?). But they swept it under the rug and now have egg all over them. Like most places I've been, they really care about their perceived image. In reality though, is this going to have any tangible effect on CSU? The CSU chem department? I'm not sure it will.

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  9. I was on a search committee for a department technician about ten years ago. The night before one of the candidates arrived for his on-site interview, we found out that he had been found liable for sexual harassment at his past three institutions. It explained why he had a series of two- or shorter-year appointments. He obviously didn't get the job after we found out.

    Absolutely nothing about this in the letters from his former supervisors. Apparently, people are so gun-shy about having these perverts sue that they omit even the slightest mention of such behavior in recommendation letters, and that f---ing sickens me.

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    1. Were his past jobs academic or industrial? If it's the former, I'm surprised they actually got rid of him (in spite of all that "rah, rah, women in STEM, yay" stuff academics say in public).

      My boss and I were going through resumes for a QC technician job once. I saw a lot of unfortunate cases of folks with a B.S. or M.S. in chemistry whose entire employment history was a string of crappy Yoh/Aerotek/Kelly temp jobs as low-level lab techs. It was hard to tell whether someone was just unlucky, or if there was a good reason why none of their employers wanted to make them permanent.

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  10. I didn't realize that hitting on women in a course way was a perversion. Huh.

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  11. @KT: Academic. And yes, you are correct about how difficult it is to quickly get rid of even obvious offenders. We've got a case in department now that's dragged on all summer. Everyone agrees what happened, but the parties involved are haggling about the punishment.

    @Anon 10:42 AM: A) Who said that it was just hitting on women? B) If you do it repeatedly after being told to stop or coarsely enough, then yeah.

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