The Gambling Referee and Double Jeopardy

Now that he has pled guilty, it is no longer an allegation. Tim Donaghy admitted to gambling and helping others gamble in the National Basketball Association games which he officiated as a referee. Donaghy’s $260,000 annual salary had no effect on his reported compulsive gambling habit. This has been a huge embarrassment for the NBA and its head man, David Stearn. Stearn and the players’ union have been handling the embarrassment to the league by saying that this referee is an aberration, just one guy who was acting on his own.

Now that he has pled guilty, the news has leaked that the federal prosecutors have done their usual deal. Part and parcel of pleading guilty, especially in federal court, is implicating all others who might be involved. Now the news has leaked that Donaghy has information about the gambling habits of 20 other referees. If this number is anywhere close to accurate, and if the other referees were truly involved in gambling, this is a disaster for the National Basketball Association.

Even if there is no hard evidence that many of the other referees did not try to “fix” the games they called, it would call into question too many things. Twenty referees is about one third of the entire officiating staff for the NBA. If a significant number of these were gambling even on things other than the basketball games in which they were involved or things other than basketball, the problem is nevertheless huge. There is a reason those referees are restricted from any gambling in casinos.

But Tim Donaghy will do whatever it takes to please the prosecutors, because “cooperation” appears to be the only way to lessen his sentence from a possible 25-year maximum. And one may assume he expected to do just that -lessen his sentence – by pleading guilty. Now that Maricopa County, Arizona, prosecutor, Andrew Thomas, has indicated he is considering prosecuting Donaghy in state court, however, Donaghy has probably had a long talk with his lawyer. After his lawyer explained that “double jeopardy” does not save you from being prosecuted for the same acts in both federal and state court. So, Donaghy has a new threat and the possibility of an increased, not lessened, sentence. Just how serious that threat is not clear at this time. Donaghy may not end up with a greater sentence, but you can bet that he considers it a real threat at this time.

Double jeopardy is prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. This provision makes it impossible for a person to be put on trial (to be in “jeopardy”) more than once for the same offense by the sovereign. But the federal government and the fifty states of the union are each separate sovereigns. Therefore, being tried by one sovereign does not prevent the other sovereign government (federal or state) from prosecuting for the same act or series of acts that violate both state and federal laws. Plural state governments could get into the act, depending on where the offending acts take place.


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