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150-Year Madoff Sentence Is "Symbolic"

(AP Photo/Louis Lanzano)
CBS News' Chief Legal Analyst and Legal Editor Andrew Cohen weighs in after hearing that former Wall Street financier Bernard Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison for running a Ponzi scheme.

I am shocked by this ruling -- and I suspect that many legal experts are as well. The sentence is completely disproportionate to what other major white-collar criminals had received in recent years in fraud cases and I'm not sure that the level of the fraud, even the scope of it, justifies that.

I think it's more symbolic than anything else because as a practical matter Madoff was going to die in prison anyway whether he got 50 years or 100 or 150 or even 25. Clearly the judge wanted to send a message to other would-be swindlers out there and also to recognize the enormity of the crime.

Even though Madoff has conceded the case it'll be interesting to see now whether his attorneys appeal this harsh sentence on grounds that it violates their client's constitutional rights to be protected from disproportionate punishment.

Andrew Cohen is CBS News' Chief Legal Analyst and Legal Editor. CourtWatch is his new blog with analysis and commentary on breaking legal news and events. For columns on legal issues before the beginning of this blog, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter.
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