I quipped earlier that perhaps judges had more empathy for the type of taxpayer who would commit tax crimes through offshore accounts than the type of taxpayer who commits tax crimes in other ways. My notion was that the former was more likely the type of person the judge -- who is generally high middle to upper income person and moves in circles with such people, whether at Church or Synagogue, the country club and other venues. My specific example was that these defendants were often the type of person the judge would see at the country club.
I have just read a very interesting article in the New York Times that brushes on this very general topic. The article is titled "Is the Defendant White or Not?" by Nour Kteily, an assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Sarah Cotterill, a doctoral student in the department of psychology at Harvard. The article may be viewed here.
The general thesis of the article, presented in the context of the Tsarnaev terrorist trial, is that
We also found that such whiteness perceptions had the potential to play an important role in the outcome of Mr. Tsarnaev’s trial. The lower that individuals rated Mr. Tsarnaev as looking white, the more willing they were to punish him severely. In a case like Mr. Tsarnaev’s, where guilt is widely presumed and where the outcome will most likely fall on one side of the line between life imprisonment and death, this finding seems especially relevant.This is a similar phenomenon in the offshore account tax crimes prosecutions -- by the time the Government brings charges, guilt is presumed and, in fact, admitted by the defendant in his or her guilty plea. The only issue is punishment. In that context, the whiteness phenomenon may help explain in part the lenient sentencing. By whiteness, I don't mean literally whiteness. I mean the ability of the judge to relate to the defendant better than the typical defendant charged with a tax crime.
As I employ the concept, it is necessarily a loose and fuzzy notion, without the type of research the authors present in the article. Certainly, I do not have type of research performed by those authors in the specific context they discuss.
But, from my perspective, it seems to me that one can fairly question the notion that commission of tax crimes via offshore accounts is any less blameworthy -- i.e., punishable -- than commission of tax crimes in other contexts. (Merely saying that will probably exclude me from representing persons charged with offshore tax crimes.) So what explains the difference?
I would appreciate readers views on this subject.