Dog Fighting Prosecution of Michael Vick, Star Quarterback

August 20, 2007

Michael Vick, the star quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons professional football team, has reportedly decided to plead guilty to federal charges filed against him. Vick was accused of running a dog-fighting gambling operation.

Reportedly, Vick will accept a plea bargain which will result in his spending about a year behind bars. For a few weeks, while the charges were pending, Vick was silent. The public could watch the federal government build the pressure on Vick to plead guilty.

However, a month ago, one of Vick’s co-defendants in the case had entered a guilty plea and, in order to obtain leniency in his own sentence, promised to assist federal prosecutors in their case against Vick. Then, two more of the Vick’s fellow defendants in the case entered guilty pleas, both of them also agreeing to testify on behalf of the United States Government against Vick.

The fact that investigators had discovered extensive dog kennels and arguably other evidence of dog fighting on Vick’s private property was not a good start for Vick. There was likely other evidence, but then to have three of your fellows line to testify against you was typical of the pressure the federal government puts on those it accuses of crimes.

To up the ante further, the federal government was threatening to file a superceding indictment against Vick if he did not plead guilty by last Friday. That superceding indictment was supposed to accuse him of running a criminal enterprise, accusing Vick of a violation of R.I.C.O. (Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act), so the five year maximum sentence Vick now faces would have been considerably increased, making the plea bargain much more appealing than his other alternatives.

R.I.C.O. (as many are probably wondering what that is) was enacted by Congress to go after organized crime, the Mafia. But once on the books, as usual, federal prosecutors got creative. They have used the law whenever they can, and often file or threaten to file it in order to bring pressure on any accused to plead guilty to lesser charges.