Criminal Charges in Alabama: Public Official Must Be Extra Careful

Tags: Criminal Defense

Whether you’re a traffic cop or former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, Birmingham criminal defense lawyers know if you hold the title of public official, you’ll be held to a higher standard in the eyes of the law.


Former Gov. Don Siegelman, who was convicted on charges of bribery and fraud back in 2006, recently reached the end of the line on his appeals process, which resulted in the dismissal of two of the charges, though his re-sentencing only shaved a year off his original 7.5-year prison sentence.

Ignorance for the law, while not ever a defense for breaking it, can sometimes be leveraged for leniency in some circumstances. However, this tactic is usually not going to work when the defendant is employed as a steward of the law. They are expected to have known better. While there is sometimes the perception that higher ranking officials get off easier than most, the truth is that because criminal proceedings involving officials are often closely watched by the public, judges often impose harsher-than-normal sentences to set an example.

That’s what happened to Siegelman, who had said he never intentionally broke the law. However, he added that because a jury had convicted him, he respected that decision.

This shows why it can often be smart in these cases to have your defense attorney aggressively negotiate a favorable plea deal. This can be a good way to avoid the public spectacle of a trial and potentially get the most serious of charges dropped in exchange for an admission of guilt on lesser charges. It may mean that you won’t be able to return to your former occupation, but it could keep you out of prison.

Unfortunately for Siegelman, that didn’t happen, despite arguments from his Democratic allies that the charges were all a result of political backstabbing by the Bush administration in the first place. In fact, about 90 of his former colleagues in the attorney general’s office sent briefs to the re-sentencing judge in Montgomery, urging that he not be sent back to prison, with many questioning whether the campaign contributions around which these charges centered were even bribes in the first place. Some even called for a federal investigation or a presidential pardon.

What essentially happened was this:

A man reportedly arranged to make a $500,000 payment to Siegelman’s bid to begin a state lottery. Not long after, Siegelman appointed the man to the state’s hospital regulatory board.

Although this sounds like politics-as-usual almost everywhere, Siegelman was accused, and later convicted, of essentially “selling” that hospital board seat. He and his supporters always denied that was the case.

He served nine months of his original sentence before he was released on bond pending his appeals. It was a federal appeals court that tossed two of those charges against him, which is why he was granted a re-sentencing. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his case, as he had hoped.

The donor, too, was sentenced to seven years, though an appeals judge later cut that by about one year.

Public officials certainly recognize that any criminal allegation of wrongdoing is serious. As soon as you believe you may be under investigation, you need to hire an experienced attorney who will aggressively defense your career, your reputation and your freedom.


Additional Resources:

Ex-Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman heads back to prison for bribery, By Michael Muskal, The Los Angeles Times

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