A woman accused of misrepresenting her husband’s accusation that she had been kidnapped while running near her rural California home in 2016 and setting off a large search was released on $120,000 bail this week. Sherri Papini, a mother of two.
if convicted, Papini could face up to 20 years in prison for making false statements to federal officials and mail fraud.
It’s unlikely that she’ll face a term of more than a year in prison; most constitutional lawyers believe she’ll accept a guilty plea that might result in anything from house arrest to up to two years in prison.
According to Los Angeles-based defense lawyer David Ring, “It’s hardly murder or armed robbery, but they are significant felonies.” Ring tells PEOPLE. “If you commit mail fraud or make a false statement to a government official, you could be sentenced to prison. She’ll have to decide whether or not to accept the charges or fight them.”
Ring expects prosecutors will pursue jail time, regardless of the outcome of the investigation.
It’s his opinion that she deceived the public. “She whipped up panic about a kidnapping in the neighborhood. If you say “Oh gee, I’m sorry,” you may not get away with it. Government officials agree, saying that they’ll overlook the mistake. Nobody is going to accept her apology and allow her to go on with her life as she has done thus far. There’s no way.”
Slapping her around like that, he continues, “would enrage the neighborhood and the public”. “In essence, she equated Hispanic women with kidnappers and slammed the Hispanic community. It’s a complete and utter disgrace.”
Professor Laurie Levenson of Loyola Law School believes that if Papini accepts a plea offer, it will be in his best interest.
“When she starts putting in forgetting the victim help, it does look very premeditated,” adds Levenson. According to officials, Papini has been accused of taking more than $30,000 from a government fund set up to assist crime victims. In the short term, “accepting responsibility and lowering the amount of offense” is probably the wisest move for her to make.
To which she continues, “I think probably whoever represents her will delve down deep to discover why she put up this [alleged] scam and request leniency on that basis.” “Why did she conduct this crime? What is the appropriate level of punishment for her actions?”
According to Ring, if Papini rejects a plea deal and the matter goes to trial, the punishment will be “much, much more” than what the prosecutors gave her. “So that’s the chance she takes by going to trial.”
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Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, says “Jussie Smollett is a comparable case.” “In other words, it’s a case of intentional misrepresentation. He probably would not have gotten five months in jail if it weren’t for Jussie Smollett’s actions, which included taking the case to trial and lying and lying at sentencing. As a result, in state court, even in a jurisdiction as liberal as Chicago, he would be granted far less time than he would in federal court. That means Jussie Smollett probably would have been given probation instead of a prison sentence had he just admitted to the attack. This judge was under a lot of pressure to send him to prison.”
According to Rahmani, the fate of Papini will be decided by a federal judge.
In addition to the crime’s circumstances and gravity, the court also considers the defendant’s background and personal characteristics, as he explains: “The judge looks at different variables.” “When it comes to sentencing, judges have the final say. They wield considerable influence.”
The case’s worldwide media coverage, which has been high-profile from the outset, could be a factor in sentence.
According to Rahmani, “There are a lot of eyes and ears on [the Papini] case.” “This means there will be a lot of pressure from law enforcement. She’s the new Gone Girl, and that’s attracted a lot of attention.”
It’s likely that Papini will have to pay back a significant sum to the state even if she’s sentenced to home detention or jail time because she requested more than $30,000 in compensation from the California victims assistance fund and because law enforcement spent time and money investigating the case. Papini’s disappearance was investigated for more than $150,000, according to Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson.
Restitution is required when there are victims of crime, and the government in this case is one of those victims, therefore there’s no dispute about it, adds Rahmani. “As victims, they’ll have to fill out the restitution paperwork, which will list all the hours spent by police officers, officers, and sheriffs. All of that will be spelled out and the judge will order it. And she’ll be required to make that payment, and it will be spread out over a period of time.”
Ring asserts that her background as a working mom won’t matter.
“Do you think that influenced their decision would not go after Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos?
In addition to being a new mother and newlywed, “he claims, according to her. “She was placed on trial by a judge and jury. That’s the way things are. Having children does not exonerate you from the consequences of committing a heinous act of violence.”